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Amelia Islander

Celebrating the Holidays on Amelia

Dec 08, 2014 01:50PM
When I first moved to Florida from New England, my teenage daughter was not happy about spending Christmas in the Sunshine State. “It’s not the same without snow!” she whined. “It doesn’t feel like Christmas!” It was a big change for both of us, but I was determined to make it a Christmas to remember. We attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church’s Christmas pageant on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas Day we headed to the beach, where we made a “snow” man out of sand, decorated with shells for buttons and seaweed for hair. We sipped tropical smoothies and walked on the beach for hours, holding hands. Although it was a different sort of Christmas for us, it turned out to be one of our happiest. How can you not be happy, bathed in the beauty of our island paradise, during one of the most sacred days of the year? But Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated in December, and, with Amelia Islanders’ diverse backgrounds and traditions, you will find joy, good tidings, and festivities everywhere you look. Patty and Terry Spaulding came to Amelia Island quite by accident, on a road trip traveling from Miami to their home in West Virginia. After some marathon hours of driving, Patty suggested they follow signs to Fernandina Beach, where they hoped to find some fresh local seafood. They ate at the Marina Restaurant that evening and fell in the love with the island, vowing to come back. And they did come back, time and again, until Patty told her husband that they needed to move here permanently. That was twenty years ago, and, since living on the island full-time, their Christmas traditions are all about the island lifestyle. “When we first moved here, we decided to have stuffed flounder for our Christmas Day dinner,” says Patty. “With all the wonderful seafood here, it seemed natural to have fish for Christmas.” Patty’s flounder Christmas dinner started with a microwave recipe, which she adapted for a more elegant main dish. “The family looks forward to this dish every Christmas. They ask why I only make it for Christmas, and I say it’s because that makes it even more special!” The Spauldings spend Christmas Day walking on the beach, no matter what the weather. “It doesn’t matter if it’s cold and windy; we were used to much colder weather in West Virginia. The beach here, that’s our ‘white Christmas!’”
Linda's cookies Various cookies Linda Lane bakes for her and husband, Bill's, Cookie Party. Photo by William Raser.
Amelia Islanders Linda Lane and Bill Raser have made a holiday tradition of hosting a “cookie party” nearly every year, beginning in 1999. “Open house parties used to be all the rage, back then,” remembers Linda. “We wanted to hold an open house, too, but do something a little different. That’s how I came up with the idea for the cookie party.” In the Lane/Raser home, Linda makes all the cookies, and Bill makes hot mulled wine. In the many years they have held the cookie party, the couple has hosted well over one hundred guests each year. Linda’s recipes come from all over. Some are family recipes, some from magazines, and others from cookbooks. Linda adds new cookie varieties every year to keep it fresh and interesting. She creates twelve to fifteen varieties, three to six dozen each. If you do the math, it means Linda single-handedly makes up to one thousand cookies for their party. “Right after Thanksgiving, I purchase the ingredients I need to make all the cookies,” says Linda. “It takes a lot of planning. I make cookies nearly every day up until the party. Some can go into the freezer or in airtight containers. Some, like the “mice” cookies, have to be assembled last minute. Our most popular cookie —and Bill’s favorite—is the fruitcake cookie.” Linda goes on to say that she feels no stress whatsoever in making all the cookies. “I love the process!”
Labyrinth One of the labyrinths created by Eliza Holliday.
The Winter Solstice on December 21 is an event that has been recognized as a special day around the world, nearly since the beginning of recorded time. It marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year, and it is usually seen as signifying the beginning of the rebirth of the natural world. Amelia Island artist Eliza Holliday celebrates the Winter Solstice by building a labyrinth on the beach, a special path and sacred space where she can move into deeper contact with her spiritual dimension. It is a tool for meditation, and Holliday has made them with sand, dirt, and candles, for many years, all over the island. “I heard Lauren Artress speak on NPR about discovering the walking labyrinth, and her research in her book, Walking the Spiritual Path,” says Holliday. “So I built my first labyrinth at the beach in sand so I could experience what Ms. Artess was talking about. I have built many styles of labyrinths, mainly to celebrate my spiritual family, the turning points of the seasons (solstices and equinoxes), and to celebrate the earth.” Participants are invited to recite a healing prayer while walking the labyrinth. “It’s as healing to build them as it is to walk them,” says Holliday. “I find it enriching every time.” Christmas in Mexico is celebrated during a season that begins in early December and lasts through January 6. During this entire time, one can see nativity scenes, poinsettias (which originated in Mexico) and even Christmas trees gracing Mexican homes. The season begins with celebrations related to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, followed by traditions such as Las Posadas, pastorelas, a Mass and feast on Christmas Eve, the arrival of the Three Wise Men on January 6, and culminating with Candlemas and the presentation of Child Jesus images at churches. Arturo Cole-Escutia moved to north Florida from Mexico several years ago, dividing his time between Jacksonville and Amelia Island. He still celebrates many of his family’s Mexican traditions, and, because Arturo loves to cook, many of his Christmas traditions are centered around Christmas Eve dinner. “We celebrate with a very elaborate dinner on Christmas Eve,” says Arturo. “We get together with family all dressed up for dinner on Christmas Eve, and then we also get together for lunch on Christmas Day, but now in a more relaxed setting, and we eat ‘recalentado,’ reheating the leftovers from last night’s dinner.” “So, dinner is elegant, but lunch next day is relaxed, all family children playing with toys that Santa brought them that day. The menu at my family place is always the same: a big roasted turkey, two types of stuffing, one salty made with oysters and another sweet made with dried fruit. We also make cheese and spinach crepes, cooked shrimp, macaroni and ham cold salad, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce,” says Arturo. “And we love our desserts. There are always two kinds of cake, a classic chocolate and a tres leches cake. Amelia Island’s many churches celebrate charitable giving among their many Christmas rituals and traditions. At St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the entire parish takes part in two holiday special projects: children from their religious formation program, coordinated by Lori Kennedy, make handmade Christmas cards for nursing homes and home-bound adults. “From kindergarten through eighth grade, our children make one hundred seventy cards,” says Lori. “They are hand-delivered though our Eucharistic ministers.”
Angel Tree Eileen Shrubsall, Marcia Grubesky, and Maryellen Crocker prepare the “Angel Tree” at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, through which parishioners provide Christmas gifts for needy families.
St. Michael’s also has an “Angel Tree,” coordinated by Maryellen Crocker and Marsha Grubesky. “We receive the names of needy children and adults from nine local agencies,” says Marsha. “We hang angels on Christmas trees in the back of the church, and on each angel is written what the recipient would like for Christmas, along with each person’s size and age. Our parish members take an angel off the tree and shop for that person, then wrap the gift, and return it in time for us to deliver them by Christmas.” This project is the combined effort of St. Michael’s Catholic Church and St. Francis of Assisi Mission Church in Yulee. The endeavor began over ten years ago, and today it provides gifts for five hundred local residents, who otherwise might not receive anything for Christmas. (For more information about getting involved with St. Michael’s Angel Tree program, call Maryellen Crocker at (412) 977-0683.)
Jewish family celebration The Jewish community of Amelia Island comes together to light menorahs to celebrate Hanukkah at various gatherings around the island.
Hanukkah is an eight-day Festival of Lights celebrated by people of Jewish culture and faith. Hanukkah begins on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Since the Hebrew calendar is lunar rather than solar, Hanukkah begins on a different day each year. This year, the holiday begins at sunset on December 16 and ends at sunset on December 24. On Amelia Island, the Jewish community gathers at a private home sometime during the eight-day festival to light their menorahs and feast on traditional Jewish dishes. Debbie and Ron Price are the “go-to” people for Jewish information, and they are eager to answer any questions about their faith and culture. “Usually we have about 50 people attend our Hanukkah party,” says Debbie. “Everyone brings a dish to share, either an appetizer or entrée or dessert. Most of us have menorahs that are old, maybe handed down from our grandparents, or maybe one we received as a wedding gift. This makes our party very special. We light our individual menorahs together.” Debbie adds that many Jewish people try to do volunteering or community service during the holiday, as a means of keeping other people in their thoughts. For more information about the Hanukkah party and the other Jewish holidays, or to receive the group’s newsletter, contact Debbie at (203) 313-3925 or email her at [email protected] Amelia Island residents celebrate the season in so many ways. Some spend Christmas volunteering for charities like Joy to the Children. Others spend the day on the water, fishing and boating. Others sing in the church choir. Many spend Christmas working at our fine resorts, our community hospital, and our local grocery stores. And, no matter how busy our holidays are, we always find time for our families and friends. It is a joyous season, a time to reflect on everything that is good in the world, and to appreciate our many blessings.

For more information about holiday happenings around the island, visit