SEBRING ญญ- It's probably one of the most tradition-laden holidays of the year and since the birth of Jesus Christ, people around the world have started and clung to religious and secular Christmas rites and customs.
In the United States, the Yuletide season usually means watching lots of movies and TV specials, large family dinners, caroling, religious services and office parties. But each American family generally has its own way of making the season special and there's no exception in Highlands County.
A brief walk around Sebring found that no matter the locale or place of origin, people have their own special memories of past Christmas customs. From transplants and snowbirds to down-home, snow-deprived locals, people have their own recollections of what made the season special in the past and what keeps it fun in the present.
"Mine would be baking cakes, the cookies. It's always been my favorite. When I was little, it was decorating the sugar cookies and going to church Christmas eve," said Amy Clark of Chillicothe, Ill,, visiting her mother, Vera Tague, in Sebring. Across from her at a booth in Platter's II restaurant, Tague smiled and as her daughter spoke, thought back to her own Nativity season special happenings in childhood home of Tuscola, Ill.
"My mom was big on candy and her peanut brittle was great. She was really good at it. That is a sweet memory," she said of Sebring as she smiled.
While some Highlands County residents native to the area may use pine needles or magnolia leaves and orange blossoms for table decorations, those from the northern climes may clamor for artificial ice, snow and icicles for decorations to help remind them it's actually cold somewhere else. The cultural differences may come through, but the spirit and joy is the same.
"Every year, we stay home on Christmas and watch the movie 'Polar Express.' We've been doing that ever since it came out," said Mike Boley of Lake Placid, as he stood outside the CenturyLink wireless store on US 27.
Standing with him were his three sons: Tanner, 13, Zachary, 11 and Carson, 6. He said since his sons were born, they've made a tradition of opening one present Christmas eve.
"When I was little, that's what we did," he added.
About a mile north of Boley, Toiya Cook of Avon Park took a break from working at Gold's Gym on U.S. 27. Pausing, he thought back to big family dinners on Christmas day that seemed more like Thanksgiving than Noel and he remembers the action with his four brothers and sister on that special morning.
"Man, we got up early in the morning, right at daylight and go straight to the toys, rip up the paper and get out the toys," he said. "Later, we got together like Thanksgiving and eat and now the younger ones rip up the presents. I just clean up the mess."
Although the most common traditions include a visit from Santa Claus, decorating a tree, hanging stockings, eating feasts and decorating the home, locally some had a few more unique common practices for the season. One Sebring woman's family even has a name for its annual Christmas tradition: "Christmas Gift to You."
Tara Rowland of Sebring said sometime in her grandmother Betty Barnes' youth, a tradition of calling a family member on Christmas eve around midnight started and saying, "Christmas gift to you." The caller is then responsible for bringing over an early Christmas gift, even if it meant driving after midnight. Now, her two sisters, Bethany Biller and Tiffany Villone and their sons take part in the old-time custom cooked up by her grandmother.
"My grandmother did it and it got passed down. We keep it going in her memory," she said.
So whether it's a small item from Christmas past or a new big-ticket custom from Christmas present, it seems everyone has something during Christmas to cling to.