A Christmas Story

South Bay residents recall their favorite holiday traditions.

Pajamas and Ugly Sweaters

Four daughters, two very large extended families and a dog that needs “more attention than a newborn” means it is officially the holiday season at the Curry residence, where the J.A.C.K.s (Jewish American Catholic Kids) get ready to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. 

On the eighth night, we have our party. All of our extended family gathers at one of the family’s houses, and we have a wonderful night filled with delicious, slow-roasted brisket, Manischewitz, and of course potato latkes. 

We always spend the week leading up to Christmas at Cheer for Children, a local charity that donates gifts—including toys, clothes and food, and gas cards—to families in need. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning is really where I think we shine. 

On Christmas Eve, we have dinner with our dear friends, and after they leave, it’s an all-out karaoke battle. The night usually ends with Peggy as the last one standing—singing some Motown classic before we get our holiday pajamas. As we’ve gotten older, the pajama tradition has continued, but the matching candy cane thermals have been replaced with Victoria’s Secret.

Our parents have to wake us up and tell us it’s time for our annual picture on the stairs before we get ready for church. Every Christmas morning our mom has forced the five of us (Tim and his girls) to sit on top of the stairs in our pajamas, with our bed heads and still half asleep, and take loads of pictures.  

Those years when we had braces or when we hit puberty and were just too cool for morning pictures were tough to get the group to settle, but Peggy wouldn’t allow us to walk down those steps until she got her perfect shot. Who knows what she did with those photos. Maybe she’s saving them to embarrass each of us on our wedding days, but she never failed and always got what she wanted. 

Before morning mass, we make coffee cake and tea, and then we put on our prized ugly Christmas sweaters and make our way over to Martyrs. The four of us sit in the pews next to our slightly embarrassed father, and after mass we go up to the front and our mother makes us take yet another cheesy picture in front of all of the Christmas trees up on the altar. 

These are the silly traditions that keep us sane, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Annie Curry

Manhattan Beach

 

My Big, Fat, Greek Christmas

As is the nature with most meaningful family traditions, my story begins with tragedy but ends in libations.

My dad unfortunately passed away on Christmas Eve in 2008, casting a somber cloud on one of the most celebrated nights of the year. Since his passing, my family goes down to the Redondo Pier at exactly 5:18 a.m. (the time of his death) and throws flowers off the pier. It’s our way of acknowledging his memory and keeping him close to our hearts during a holiday we always looked forward to when he was still with us. 

Then we celebrate, because that’s what he would have done. My husband, Steve, is Greek, so that means family and lots of it. We usually spend the day cooking, and then it’s off to whoever is brave enough that year to host Christmas Eve dinner. 

When it was our turn last year, we had a lamb roasting on a spit in the middle of our driveway for all our non-Greek neighbors to see. The Greeks generally comment on how beautiful it is, while the non-Greeks take a few minutes to determine that it’s a lamb, not a dog. 

While the lamb is cooking, everyone is scarfing down food, eventually looking up to pause and take a celebratory shot of ouzo, a traditional, licorice-tasting liquor. This is the pattern for the rest of the night. 

At some point, our brother-in-law sets up his speakers, blasts Greek music, and the dancing begins. While the grandmothers—or “yia-yias” in Greek—are off kicking their heels, all the kids tear into their presents, which usually takes all of 10 minutes. After more ouzo is consumed, we finish the night off with dessert and Greek coffee, just to ensure that no one will sleep for the next two days. 

Elizabeth Kitsios

Torrance

 

“Old Death Whisper”

The first holiday season with my future wife’s family was, of course, an exciting one. I’d been learning about their traditions, their feasts and maybe most importantly their holiday drinks!  

I knew that they always made eggnog around the holidays, but I really had no idea how important this libation was to the tradition of this family and how I’d be given the torch to keep the recipe and tradition alive. My father-in-law coined the beverage “Old Death Whisper” after generations of the beverage of having no name. Despite being anonymous for many years, this drink was already infamous throughout town.

Naturally, I could not wait to share this tradition with my South Bay family. So one unsuspecting Christmas, I laboriously concocted “Old Death Whisper” and escorted it to our good friends’ Christmas Eve dinner dressed as Santa Claus. Of course everyone loved the mixture and went back for seconds … and thirds … and fourths.

Suddenly, my buddy and host realized he needed to assemble his daughter’s new playhouse before morning. When a giant bag of bolts and other crazy fixtures emptied out of the box onto the floor, panic ensued. Needless to say we all stayed, in various states of sobriety, and somehow completed the project in an all-night building session.

It wasn’t my intention to give everyone a hangover for Christmas, but hey, as Santa Claus that year, I had to have something for everyone … naughty or nice. I hope your holiday season is as jolly as that one!

Jerod Cuza

Manhattan Beach
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