With a nod to nostalgia, Sarasota residents tell us the stories of their favorite gifts and holiday decorations.
Nostalgia and the holiday season seem to go hand in hand. Memories of favorite holiday trips, gifts or ornaments fill the minds of people everywhere. We asked a few Sarasota residents to share theirs.
A look of Christmas cheer landed on the face of each participant as they thought long and hard about what holds the coveted place of top gift or ornament in their minds. When it came to ornaments, Sarasotans love to hang everything from Elvis Presley to Prince Charming on their Christmas trees. And although some people recalled tangible items as their favorite gift, people overwhelmingly said time spent with their family was the greatest gift they’ve ever received.
Bernadette DiPino, Sarasota Police Chief
Each year, DiPino loves spending time with her Prince Charming … made out of glass, that is. DiPino picked up the glass-blown ornament that was made in Poland during a family trip to Valley View Farms in Maryland. The ornament is a figure of a knight in shining armor, which she says has been special to her for nearly 30 years.
“I’m a romantic,” DiPino said. “I believe in true love and symbolically, this is my guy. Every time I look at it, I think about how I’m still waiting for my Prince Charming to come. This ornament, to me, symbolizes that I believe in love, hope and the romanticism of finding your true love.”
It might come as no surprise that Jenny Townsend, who owns Music Compound, loves music. Her favorite gift came in the form of not an object but an experience. In 2012, her aunt bought her tickets to George Strait’s farewell tour, one of her favorite artists. The day was more special for Townsend because Strait performed at the first concert she ever attended, with her aunt when she was 8.
Throughout the years, the pair has seen Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert in concert, but Strait has always held a special place in her heart.
For some people unwrapping a giant rock on Christmas means they have something new to wear on their finger, but when Libby Monnot opened a box to find a large rock it made her the new Mother of Dragons or, well, Mother of Dinosaurs.
Monnot’s husband Mike gifted her with a fossilized raptor egg for Christmas many years ago. She said that gift stuck out because it was a unique experience to see.
“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” The famous line from “A Christmas Story” stuck with Christy Prather as a kid, and she knew right away she needed her own BB gun. That connection with the 1983 classic has kept the BB gun at the top of her favorite Christmas gifts list.
For 12-year-old Jack Stevenson, visiting Siesta Key Beach on vacation with his family has always been his favorite Christmas gift. As a North Carolina native, coming to the Sunshine State means that he gets to go to the beach with his family and play football, which he said is his favorite part.
Harry Knell said his favorite gift was always sitting down for Christmas dinner with his family. He said sitting around the table and talking with his loved ones was more important than anything that he could find under the tree — other than the accordion he received at age 12 that he went on to play for 40 years.
Sean, Connor and Meghan Farrell
The Farrell siblings rank their Wii video game system as the No. 1 gift they were ever given for Christmas. Conner Farrell said that after the siblings finished opening their gifts, his parents tried to pretend that the kids weren’t going to get the console.
His parents they told them to go look behind one of the chairs, and there it was, similar to when Ralphie finds his BB gun in “A Christmas Story.” The siblings said the Wii was so important to them because it was their first game console, and it gave them a chance to play together.
Hanging “The King” on his tree was always Josh Golberg’s favorite Christmas ornament. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll that is. During a trip to Memphis, Tenn., when he was 6 years old, Goldberg picked up the Elvis Presley ornament that still hangs on his Christmas tree to this day.
Disney and Christmas go hand-in-hand for 6-year-old Autumn Bryan. Cinderella gazing into a soap bubble during the scene when the princess sings “Sing, Sweet Nightingale” is the ornament that brings the most joy to Bryan. Her favorite ornament doubles as one of her favorite Christmas gifts.
At 4 years old in the 1980s, Ryan Storm opened up a Christmas present that to this day he calls “revolutionary.” Inside the brightly wrapped box he found an Atari 2600. He would go on to play some of his favorite games such as “Donkey Kong” and “Pole Position.”
Jeremiah and Jariah Burgess
Siblings Jeremiah, 13, and Jariah Burgess, 10, have a bit of a differing among what makes the best Christmas gift for them. Jeremiah favors the drone he received for Christmas 2018. The drone sticks in his mind because he enjoys flying it around and taking photos with it.
For his younger sister, Jariah, it’s not what’s under the tree but who’s sitting around it. Jariah’s favorite Christmas gift has always been her family. She said her family is “the best thing in the world” and that spending the morning opening gifts while she laughs and plays with her siblings is the best part of Christmas.
Chris Boothroyd’s favorite gift came from his brother and stands out in his mind because it really matches his personality. His brother gave him a watch with a wood case from Bewell three Christmases ago. In fact, he loved it so much that he said he went out and purchased three more.
Almost every little kid has that one toy that he or she just can’t let go of. For 1-year-old Emilia Musto, that toy is a pink and white stuffed Santa. Her mom, Caitlin Musto, said the Santa was purchased to put under the tree as a decoration, but Emilia claimed it as her own. When the family brought Santa out of storage, Musto said Emilia picked him back up, and the two have been inseparable ever since. The toddler’s love for the toy might make Santa a year-round toy, Musto said.
Christmas has become less exciting over the years in terms of receiving and more so for giving, Drake said.
"The most rewarding gift I have received or given is the gift of time: taking time out of the everyday hustle bustle to appreciate what you have and pass it forward,'' she said.
Drake visited Oak Park School in December 2017 to provide teddy bears to students and in 2018 visited St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Bahia Vista Street for the Face Autism’s Sensory Santa event last year with her trained therapy dog, Hunter.
"Doing the right thing to bring a smile to others’ faces doesn’t take much time, and the memories of these simple acts will impact you greatly for a lifetime.''