Holiday Traditions, at Home and at the Ebell

By Laura Foti Cohen

The holidays are a time of tradition, and Ebell members love their traditions! From family to food, decorations to music, personal memories meld with today’s planning to ensure favorite traditions are passed down through the generations. And holiday visits to the Ebell rank among the favorite memories of many members.

Laurie Brown’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. “My family call ourselves Pilgrims: we make everything from scratch. I make soup, turkey and stuffing. One of my daughters makes vegetables and side dishes, the other bread and desserts. We invite anyone who needs a place to celebrate.”

When Laurie met Janet Elliott, Executive Director of the International Visitors Council, at the Ebell, it led to an expansion of her Thanksgiving tradition. Members of the Council host visitors from various countries, and Laurie has hosted several. She was expecting a Chinese contingent this Thanksgiving. “They aren’t coming this year, but a young Chinese girl who attends boarding school in Massachusetts is coming for Thanksgiving week so that will be our international touch.”

Of Thanksgiving Laurie says, “We see it as a holiday that’s inclusive, without any religious or cultural divide. Everybody’s got something to be thankful for.”

A birthday serves to double the holiday festivities. Carolyn Layport, whose birthday is December 25th, recalls that she never felt slighted by sharing her special day with Christmas. She says, “My most vivid childhood memories are of my mother’s holi­day decorations and the Christmas/birthday celebrations. My cake was always Santa in his sleigh being pulled by reindeer – with candles.”

One of Carolyn’s favorite Christmas memories involves the Ebell. “When we were about 12, long-time neighbor John Welborne and I were in Cotillion together and we collaborated on a Christmas centerpiece for a contest. Apparently they liked what we did because we won first prize.”

Today, Carolyn continues the tradition of incorporating the Ebell into her holidays. She spends Christmas Eve with Ebell gentleman member David Overholt and her mother, and never misses the Christmas Ball. This year, she’s even on the Ball Committee. “It’s always fun and joyful,” she says of the event.

Mary Wilson agrees that the Ebell Christmas Ball is “always a magical evening.” She says, “I love Christmas, have enjoyed it all my life.”

Mary remembers fondly a special tradition from her childhood: “My parents decorated and put up tree on Christmas Eve after we went to bed so that when my sister and I woke up the house was magically transformed. We got wrapped presents, but if a present wasn’t wrapped it meant it was from Santa, because he was too busy to wrap. It’s a vivid memory because it was so unusual.”

As an adult, Mary says, “Our Christmas tree got bigger as we lived in bigger places. It could take up to six hours to decorate it. When the children were young we made ornaments. I traveled extensively and now my tree has ornaments from about 30 different countries; it’s a very international tree.”

In childhood, Nan Williams, a Kansas City native, spent the holidays performing. “We always went to the local VA hospital with a three-piece band,” she recalls. “Every Christmas we’d sing, then go bed to bed and talk to everybody. I remember one year we had to plow through a snowstorm to get there.” Nan keeps that musical tradition alive today – sans snow – by singing in the choir at All Saints Episcopal, where she heads the women’s ministry.

Nan says she did a lot of decorating for Christmas while she was married, then during her ensuing 25-year relationship. “After you lose a long-time partner, you have to take on a new approach,” she says. “I especially love the American Thanksgiving tradition, counting my blessings and having friends and family around. There’s so much to be thankful for, even with the mess we’re in now.”

Natalie Anderson-Battersbee’s favorite holiday tradition is a treasure hunt. “My mom would give you a card that was decorated and all pretty that had your name on it and you’d open it to find a map. It would give you the first clue and then you’d find another and it would take you to the next. When you found the treasure, it was always something super wonderful. It was so much fun that I did it with my own children.”

Natalie’s daughter has three children, and for the last 10 years the family has made the ornaments for their Christmas tree. “I really enjoy that because it’s a chance for the whole family to get together. The first year it was a teddy bear tree. Since then they’ve done snowflakes, angels – she’s a teacher and she knows how to do this kind of thing. It’s always cool.” Today’s holiday traditions also include “cookie baking with Grandma. We used to bake them and give them away and now we bake them and eat them.”

The Ebell also figures into Natalie’s holidays these days. “I’ll never forget the first time I took my grandchildren to Supper with Santa. My grandbaby was four or five. We’ve been going for a lot of years. She was just delighted. It was wonderful to see her so excited about the Bob Baker Marionettes.”

Natalie has incorporated the Ebell’s Rest Cottage into her holiday activities “because I think it’s an important way to think about giving. Once I learned about the charity that gives hats to women with cancer [Helen’s Room at Good Samaritan Hospital], I took the information and did it on my own.”

When new Ebell member Lorraine Wascher Woods was growing up, “My parents would bring us to holiday shows. I grew up outside Chicago and we also went to New York a lot: The Nutracker, the Radio City Christmas Show with the Rockettes. I take my daughter and grandson to Nutcracker – he’s only three – but it’s such a tradition for me and you never get tired of the Nutcracker.”

Another tradition solved the Santa dilemma.”When my children were growing up, my daughter, who was older, realized I was Santa. So she and I would take the gifts down to the tree together. Then she would eat the cookies and drink the milk to keep Santa going for her brother.”

Lorraine adds, “Christmas is my favorite holiday. I work full time but will try to go to something at the Ebell.” That could be the start of a whole new tradition!

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