Christmases Past

Christmases Past

Neighbors share traditions and memories of the holiday season.

Maris and Mark Angola at Karin’s Florist.

Maris and Mark Angola at Karin’s Florist. Photo Contributed

Few of us cannot remember a family Christmas tradition or a special holiday event. Maybe, it was a specialty food prepared by a family member or, perhaps, a seasonal activity. Some Vienna neighbors shared their recollections with Vienna-Oakton Connection readers.


State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) with family in 2007.


“My best Christmas memories are oriented around our family Christmas caroling parties.

Every year, starting in 1969, my parents invited 50 or so friends to meet at our house in downtown Fairfax and sing Christmas carols. After a few practice rounds and some holiday beverages, we would head out and walk through the downtown, stopping at two dozen restaurants and bars.

At each stop, we'd enter and sing our Christmas favorites. The owners and patrons loved it. They expected us every year. We've kept this tradition in our family for 44 years.”

BARBARA MCHALE, realtor, Vienna:

“In our family, Christmas has always been a big deal. I’ve got so much Christmas stuff out.

Growing up, everything was natural. We lived in the country in Virginia and holly and cedar grew there. We always had a cedar Christmas tree. They smelled so good. Mother was always cooking. She made cakes, cookies, candy. A marvelous cook, a fantastic cook.

There was great anticipation that Santa was coming. Our tradition was that everything happened on Christmas morning.

Dad made eggnog on Christmas day. Neighbors came and dad added more liquor as the day went on.

We always got three things in our stockings, nuts, a big orange and firecrackers. Dad shot off the fireworks Christmas night. It was a heavenly, exciting day for kids.

It didn’t matter if we got what we asked for, we were happy for what we got. We were satisfied. We had a great time.

Gifts weren’t the biggest thing; it was family and friends. My parents made it that way.”


Vito and Toni Florimonte celebrate the season.

VITO FLORIMONTE, master wood craftsman/gardener, Oakton:

“One tradition of Christmas from my mom’s kitchen was the preparation of many types of Christmas cookies, especially honey balls. These [the honeyballs] were made by rolling long ropes of sweet dough into simple strands about 18 inches long, floured, and then cut into pieces about 1/2 inch long. Later, these were fried in peanut oil where they would change shape into little dough balls, like small marbles. After they dried, the balls would be boiled in honey where they would absorb the honey, harden and become a confectionary delight which would be sprinkled with sparkly colored beads.

That was the easy part. The more difficult part was getting my dad to share these with family and friends since these were his favorite and, like King Midas, he protected his Christmas treasure. It was a sad day when the last of the honeyballs were consumed and we all had to wait until next year to watch it all happen again. Dad was very generous to his family and friends with everything except honeyballs.”

KAREN AKERS, School of Business, GWU, Vienna:


Sara Thomas, holding Laila, Renate Akers (Sara's grandmother and Laila's great-grandmother) lighting candles on the Christmas Tree in Coshocton, Ohio, December 2010.

“It wasn’t until I became an aunt that I truly loved and appreciated my family’s tradition of celebrating a Bavarian-style Christmas, in a small town nestled in the crook of three rivers in east-central Ohio.

Our whole family—roughly 16 of us—would gather on Christmas Eve for an early dinner in a house decorated with evergreens, rustic Santas and Krist Kindls, and every form of light, from candles to ropes of small white tree lights, twined around pine branches and set in trunks, arranged on table surfaces . . . and, of course, on the tree. Always a sharp, short-needled tree, beautifully-decorated, decked with real candles, and significantly bare below the branches.

“Following a huge, noisy, happy dinner, the family would gather by the tree. In our house, the tradition is that the oldest son would read the nativity story from the Bible, and then we would sing carols and traditional hymns. My mom shuddered at the idea of secular Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, and it was actually a pleasure to sing the beautiful songs that have endured for years—Away In a Manger, Silent Night (in German and English), O Come All Ye Faithful. Afterwards, a small group of adults would pile all the children in cars to take a tour of Christmas lights throughout our small town. The children would return to a house mysteriously hushed, the door between the kitchen and the dining room closed. Oma, the kids’ beloved grandmother, nowhere to be seen.

Eight little ones in the kitchen, dancing with anticipation, standing by the door. The little ones have already been admonished by the older ones not to touch the door. The adults are there, too, with the same sense of anticipation, waiting in the quiet.

“And from the other side of the door comes the sounds of bell tinkling. The Christ Child has come…

Santa Claus may bring presents to the children on Christmas morning, but the Krist Kindl brings them on Christmas Eve. The dining room door swings open and the children almost tumble into the dining room. Through the wide archway into the living room, they behold a miracle where there wasn’t one only an hour earlier… the tree, lit only by softly glowing candles, with mountains of presents beneath its sweeping branches. Somehow, quietly, Oma appears behind them, with a Christmas hug and kiss for each of them.

And my brother, sister and I, along with our spouses, share smiles as we watch our children take in the sight. Huge eyes, shining faces, joy, joy, joy. Christmas, for me, is summed up in that moment, when family, heritage and tradition combine. The rest of the evening is a haze of watching the kids open their presents, then we settle down with eggnog, wine and coffee to share our gifts at a more leisurely pace. By then, it’s time for Midnight Mass, where everyone is a little sleepy and deeply in the spirit of the day.”


U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) and his family at Christmas.


"The holiday season is a time to cherish traditions. Every year my wife Smitty, our daughter Caitlin and I have our friends Jen and Greg over to dress the Christmas tree, exchange presents and cook dinner together. It is a great chance to just relax, listen to music, and enjoy great company. It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing it for 20 years.”

MARIS ANGOLIA, president, Karin's Florist, Vienna:

“My husband Mark and I have a tradition every Thanksgiving morning.

Everyone in the house, whether they live there or are just visiting, gets up before the Macy’s Parade. We watch the parade, and during the commercials, we all jump up and decorate the family Christmas tree. When the parade returns, we run back to watch.

By the end of the parade, the tree is decorated and we’ve gotten our exercise. And by the way, participation is not optional; you must get up to decorate or Mark will pull you by your hair… just ask the kids.”