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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020 3 months ago

Holiday memories ring true for Sarasota residents

Sarasota residents look back on their favorite holiday memories and share how they'll celebrate the season this year.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Ask a person their favorite holiday memory and you're sure to get tales of Santa Claus, delicious food and perhaps even some holiday mishaps.

The holidays this year are sure to look a little different as many traditions will have to be adjusted to accommodate for best COVID-19 safety practices, but that doesn't mean the cheer has to stop. 

We asked a few Sarasota residents to share their favorite memories of holidays past and how they plan to celebrate the season this year. Although there are tales of roof-built trampolines and snowed-in parents almost missing Christmas, all the memories had one unifying factor: time spent with family. 

Pat Robinson, interim deputy city manager and former deputy policy chief

Pat Robinson as a baby

As a child growing up in Sarasota in the 1980s and ’90s, Christmastime was always a blur of shopping with my dad in Burdine’s at Southgate for my mom and little sister, pining over the newest Nintendo games at KB Toys, buying special ingredients for Christmas dinner with my mom at Geier’s Market and fancy holiday dinners with my grandparents at Marina Jack.  I grew up on Pine Terrace on the east side of U.S. 41, and have vivid memories of walking our two Dalmatians across U.S. 41 into Oyster Bay to look at all the Christmas lights and decorations on the “big houses.

One memory stands out in my early childhood … one fateful Christmas,  Santa saw fit to deliver a 17-foot circular trampoline into our backyard. This resulted in my little sister and me spending hours on Christmas day (freezing in 50-degree weather) jumping up and down. In my mind, this giant gift had to have come from Santa himself. Little did I know my parents assembled it all on Christmas Eve, outdoors in the dark and cold.

  My folks worked extra jobs during the holidays most years to make sure my sister and I had everything we needed. The trampoline was just one of many examples of my parents putting in extra work that I never had an inkling of as a kid. 

Now with a family of my own, I have come to truly appreciate what my parents made look so very easy but must have been so very difficult: the extra hours they put in so we had a safe home and stable environment to grow up in. Christmas was always great in the Robinson household.  I’m so grateful my parents allowed our family to have those memories. 

Tatyana Sharoubim-Stewart, owner of T.Georgiano’s Boutique

Let’s rewind to my first Christmas as a mom. Everything was enveloped with a magical glow. Our son was shy of 1 and full of smiles and constant “oooo’s” and “aaaahh’s” from my husband and I. Every development he reached we were convinced was triumphant.

Byron, Tatyana and Paloma Sharoubim-Stewart stay busy and happy every Christmas morning

This magical holiday  was catapulted to the next level. It didn’t just define what I wanted or what I was expecting in the tangible world. It was about reliving childhood through the eyes of my pre-toddler. Santa was real again. My husband and I had a new slate to create traditions on, some of which included homemade baked goods and savory dishes.

Matching pajamas entered our realm. Other traditions include getting the tree and shopping for ornaments that honor each year to provide a timeline of nostalgia. We jumped right on board the family photos wave.

Fast forward to Christmas 2020: we are now a family of four and are looking forward to having our annual mom vs. dad cookie bake-off, annual matching pajamas, watching "Elf" as many times as possible, doing puzzles next to the tree, praying for surf and savoring these fleeting years. They are magical and exhausting all in one, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It has been a tradition to help others in our community during this time of year before the pandemic hit and this year we were thrilled to adopt a family via Meals on Wheels. We love our Sarasota community and culture and have an insane amount of gratitude for our health and many blessings. We hope that as we embark on a new year, the climate will be renewed and full of unity and love.

 Jan Solomon, Sarasota Town Grandma

Jan Solomon:Tim and Jan (Hamel) Solomon

White Christmas in the Hamel household meant watermelon at the beach after dinner with family. No one ate until the Christmas story was read, and we gave sincere thanks for our blessings. Christmas Eve candlelight service was followed by a drive to see our small town paradise aglow with lights and manger scenes from Marina Jack to Midnight Pass. Faith, hope and love were cherished and modeled in my Sarasota childhood. When the Solomons came to visit from faraway lands for the holidays, the good china came out with stories from these old college friends.

The next chapter began as we [Jan and her husband Tim] were married by both fathers and set sail with our young family to "change the world.” The world followed us home with Sarasota becoming the top city in the U.S. for retirement. As a beach girl who has now taken 40,000 guests on our Key Sailing yacht charters, I have experienced the secret of our community spirit. Here we live and give together as family. And even though it seems we have invited more people to play in the sand, we are still a small town. So, how are we spending Christmas with our children and grandchildren? Trimming the tree, looking at lights from the sea, and yes, giving thanks for our blessings.

Nurse Cathy Semmens has more than 60 buildings in her Christmas village.

Cathy Semmens, RN- ICU Charge Nurse at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota

Doctor's Hospital ICU nurse Cathy Semmens works to help COVID-19 patients.

When I started as a nurse about 20 years ago, I started collecting pieces for my Christmas village. Over the years, my collection has grown and I now have hundreds of pieces. There are 60 different houses along with people, trees, cars, buses, a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and even a monorail. Each year, I set it up in November and it takes several days to assemble. I keep the display up until February. 

Each year my husband and I set up the display and this is my favorite Christmas memory, having the village for my children and grandchildren to enjoy. They love it and the music many of the pieces play. When I come home from work, I often sit in the living room to enjoy it because it gives me joy. 

This year, because of COVID-19, my children and grandchildren, who live in New York, will not be able to visit. So this Christmas will be quieter and smaller. I worry about our patients who will be in the hospital away from their loved ones this holiday. I have taken photos and videos of the Christmas village this year and sent those to the grandchildren, so they can still see it. I will put up the Christmas village again next year and hope my family will be able to be with me to enjoy it.

Rogelio Capote, Senior Vice President of Corporate Services at CAN Community Health

The fondest memories and traditions in my family are with loved ones and my Cuban heritage. We celebrate Noche Buena on the 24th in anticipation of Christmas Day. We roast a full pig with all the Cuban sides of black beans, rice, plantains, yucca and more. However, what will always resonate with me is the joy of bringing the family together to prepare. My mom is making the “mojo” (Cuban seasoning) from scratch, filling the entire house with the smell of garlic, onions and citrus. My dad is preparing the pig, making sure it is perfect for roasting in the “Caja China” (roasting box).

To me, it is not the food, or the lights, or the gifts. It is the sense of time. Time with those we hold nearest to our hearts. This year has taught me that the simpler things in life matter the most. Time is of the essence, as they say, and we truly don’t know how much we will have left of it. So in short, once we realize how essential cutting onions, slicing garlic and squeezing citrus with your loved ones is, I believe that those moments become wholly irreplaceable and unforgettable.

Will Luera, Director of Improvisation at Florida Studio Theatre

Will Luera: Alex Luera, Will Luera, Rick Garza

I grew up on the south side of Chicago as the oldest of three brothers. My parents must have thought I was a pretty responsible kid because by the age of 15, they would have me order food for our restaurant, collect rents from our tenants and take care of both of my brothers whenever they were out of the house. Well, one December, my parents decided to take a quick road trip to Texas and leave me at home with my brothers for a few days. No big deal.

They left us enough food and some cash to get us through the five-day trip. On their way back from Texas they hit a storm in Missouri which would delay their return by a couple of days. Now, instead of coming back on Christmas Eve, they would be getting back on the night of the 25th at the earliest. It was my job to now make Christmas happen for my two youngest brothers.

At 10 and 5, they were still very much into Santa so I needed to somehow make that happen. I took the remaining cash and went to the local Woolworth's to buy as many toys as possible and then went to the local grocery to get what they requested … hot chocolate and T-bone steaks. My parents owned a restaurant so I figured, how hard could it be? So I took the still-frozen T-bone steak and threw it in a frying pan.

The apartment filled with smoke, set the fire alarms off and the steak was ruined … but I wouldn’t let Christmas be ruined. I spoiled my brothers with hot chocolate and while they were asleep, I wrapped the Woolworth gifts and put them under the tree. My brothers woke up shortly after 7 a.m. to see their gifts and were so happy that Christmas arrived, that Santa made it, albeit with a slightly cheaper assortment of gifts.

My parents arrived later that night with even more gifts and then spoiled us with food. We never fully told my parents about our sibling Christmas until months later but it remains one of the most special memories for me and my brothers.

Umbreen and Farhan Khalidi-Majeed. with children Rehan and Zain Khalidi-Majeed in New York City in 2016.

Umbreen Khalidi-Majeed, philanthropist 

A favorite holiday memory of ours is enjoying the food, lights and festivities of New York City in December. We visited the Rockefeller Center with the famous ginormous tree in 2016.

This year, we are enjoying Christmas locally with a tropical vibe and of course, a lot of glitter and twinkling lights. Those are 365-day staples in our house — the boys are used to my “decorating” style after so many years.

We really do miss traveling and connecting in person with our friends and family, so 2021 can’t come fast enough. Until then, sending you all socially distant holiday cheer!

Rabbi Samantha Kahn and her family are celebrating the Festival of Lights with bright yard decorations.

Samantha Kahn, Temple Sinai rabbi 

I have two different distinct favorite memories of my childhood. One is decorating the window. In Judaism, the holidays is the festival lights and the one commandment that's associated with it is that you're supposed to publicize the miracle. So you put your menorah in your window. And my mom, who is very creative, got us stickers and all kinds of things to put in the window, but all the decorating was inside the house. Growing up as a Jewish kid, we never did anything outside of the house. But we have these big windows on either side of our front doors and I remember decorating them and feeling so proud and excited that I got to  put something in the window.

Another thing is a vivid memory of just staring into the flames of the menorah while my family was singing and my grandpa was leading the blessings. I always love the the melody, the Hanukkah blessings are wonderful and very traditional. And then my mom, who is silly, would play popular songs because there was so many hits songs lighting candles. So I remember the transition from my grandfather's booming, serious prayer voice into my mom's silly songs and just looking at the flame. And that was the first time I think I saw that blue color in fire. And I remember thinking, "Look, it's blue for Hanukkah."

This year, my family's doing stuff and then we have our congregation doing stuff. In my family, I've really taken the lessons of like displaying the miracle and the idea of it being the Festival of Lights, and I decorated my house outside as well. We went a little crazy this year because of COVID-19 and being stuck at home. So we kept getting more decorations and we have friends who joke around saying we're the Sarasota Hanukkah house, and we're very proud that of that. 

As a congregation, we've actually been doing all sorts of things. We're reading childrens' books to classrooms across Sarasota, we're doing virtual lightings every night at 5 p.m. and we have a virtual room where people can explore Hanukkah traditions. Even though we can't be together, we're still finding ways to celebrate. 


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