Our Staff Shares Their Favorite Holiday Traditions!

Traditions for the Yuletide holidays at this time of year are incredibly varied. It can include decorating a Christmas tree, baking holiday cookies, opening Christmas gifts, lighting one candle on the menorah each day, maybe just watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here are some of the ways our diverse staff at United Way of Broward County celebrate this season.

Mary Beth Albritton, Vice President of Major Gifts
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“Ever since I was little, we would have Christmas crackers, sometimes called Christmas poppers. This is an English tradition that dates back to the 1840s in which two people pull from the twisted ends of a tube, and whoever ends up with the larger portion of the tube gets the contents inside. And part of this tradition includes wearing a paper crown on your head!

My mom and grandparents immigrated from England when she was 7 years old, and every year this tradition reminds me of their journey, reminds me of my British heritage, and gives me something to pass on to my daughter and share with our friends.”

Jessy Allain, Program Officer of Supportive Services for Veteran Families
I celebrate Noche Buena with my family and friends. I am from Peru, and for us, the main celebration happens at midnight. We get together on Christmas Eve and talk, sing and have dinner pretty close to midnight. Then we have the countdown, and at midnight, we hug and kiss each other saying Merry Christmas, celebrate with cheers and open presents — and if we still we have the energy, we dance!”

Emilia Vilaire-Monchery, Senior Director of Community Impact Education Initiatives
When I was younger, my immediate and extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins and friends) would have a late night party on Christmas Eve at either my parents’ house or my uncle’s house — a big party with tons of people, tons of food, music, drinks and dancing.

“The reason we start the party late on Christmas Eve is because we make a countdown to midnight. The kids sing Christmas carols, and IF they sing well and ALL participate, then Santa appears (or an uncle dressed like Santa).

“Santa comes in and passes out all of the gifts underneath the Christmas tree. Because each aunt and uncle (my mom has 8 siblings) plus our friends and our cousins buys a gift for each child in the family, there are A LOT of gifts under the tree!

“Once we finish at 1 am or 2 am, we party just a bit more. On Christmas Day, we have a relaxing Christmas breakfast and a very low key, lazy day after all that fun and festivities.”

Rick Wolfer, Coordinator of Suicide Prevention and Wellness/Mental Wellness
For these holiday, I always get together with a lot of guys that I have coached in sports. Many are playing sports in college, and in the last couple of weeks of the holiday season, they are ‘ramping up’ and getting in form for Spring. It’s like a mini version of Spring training, and I organize it all, and it’s great to see everyone and to see their faces when they see their former teammates and peers. It’s so much fun, and it’s a true blessing to stay connected.”

Karola Ocando, Manager of Donor Relations

In Venezuela, we celebrate Christmas on December 24. The Christmas dinner includes hallacas, pan de jamón, and ensalada de gallina. Also, throughout December, we listen mostly to Gaitas, which is a style of Venezuelan folk music.

“Although we have been living in the U.S. for 20 years, my kids know our Venezuelan traditions, and we celebrate together every December. They love the food and the music, and they are proud to be from Venezuela.”

Maria Ruiz, Vice President of Human Resources
“Every December 24, we celebrate Noche Buena, and our family makes homemade, traditional dishes from Colombia and Puerto Rico — natilla, (brown sugar pudding), buñelos (Colombian cheese balls) and stuffed arepas. And we listen to traditional holiday music from Colombia, Puerto Rico and the U.S.as we dance and eat the night away!”

Kristian White, Senior Director of Major Gifts & Legacy Giving
One family tradition that we hold very near and dear to our hearts is making sure that, no matter what is going on in our lives, we always are surrounded by our family on Noche Buena and Christmas.”

Alexis Basgil, Director of Emergency Management and Quality Assurance
During the holidays, my boyfriend and I love to drive around the neighborhoods on Christmas Eve and then marvel at the variety of Christmas lights and decorations.”

Pablo Calvo, Director of Supportive Services for Veterans Families
“In our family, we celebrate these holidays as Festivus — like the characters do on Seinfeld. We raise an unadorned aluminum pole, compete in feats of strength and air our family grievances. And oh, I am being facetious!”

Stephanie Seltzer, Director of Public Relations and Marketing
“My son’s birthday is so close to December 25, and every year, I take him to Disney World in Orlando. My son just turned 6 last week, and as he grows, he is becoming really alert to all of the incredible fun and festivities — and he completely LOVES Mickey Mouse! Making magical memories for him and having this joyful time together is something I truly cherish every holiday.”

John Powell, Director of First Impressions
“I grew up in New Jersey, and my family’s background is Ukrainian and Greek. Later I discovered that our family also has Neanderthal DNA (and I think it came from my aunt and uncle. Ha!)

“Our holidays were pretty standard with the American customs. My mother was not much of a cook, but my grandmother, on the Ukrainian side, made pierogi — which are dumplings with sour cream and caramelized onions. We also had dinners with my Greek grandparents who lived in Newark. One notable thing I remember is that our family had an aluminum Christmas tree with a rotating color wheel. I wish I still had it because it probably would be an antique or collectible now!”

Coraal Cohen, Prevention Specialist of Commission on Behavioral Health & Drug Prevention
“Every year, my family makes our own sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) for Hanukkah. It’s Jewish tradition to eat these fried foods for the holiday, to celebrate the oil used to light the original menorah lasting for an unexpected eight days. And while we could easily buy these foods, it always felt extra special to make them from scratch with my mom growing up (and even more delicious!), and we continue the tradition to this day!”

Kathleen Cannon, President/CEO
“Every year since my kids and step-kids were infants, I would hide a pickle ornament on the tree and whoever would find it then would get a special treat. My kids now are all adults, but I still do it! I am Norwegian and Irish, but I believe the pickle ornament is a German tradition. I am not sure how it started it. And ask me about the tradition for the booby egg at Easter time!”

On behalf of all of our employees at United Way of Broward County, we hope you all have a joyful holiday and a healthy, happy New Year!