Sweet, Funny & Touching Holiday Traditions

With parties gone poof and plans out the window, this December may not be its most dazzling, but Greenwich more than makes up for it in spirit.
We asked locals to share the homegrown, heartwarming, haute and hilarious rituals that make this season memorable, no matter what.


POWER OF THE PEN

Patrick Mele
Interior Designer and Owner
patrickmele.com

“My favorite tradition is to write out my Christmas cards. Now more than ever, I feel a written card—not a digital one—is really meaningful. Usually, I’ll have some sort of wintry cocktail and some Brenda Lee playing as I write in a cozy nook. My good girlfriend Hayley Sarno is a super-talented artist who did my store’s logo and also designs my cards. Some years my inspiration is places I’ve traveled to, but right now it is simply friends and family and togetherness. Since everyone is so focused on home right now, I’ve never been busier workwise, and this tradition gives me a chance to slow things down, pull out my good pen and take a moment to wish people well in the year ahead.”

Photograph by Kyle Norton


ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT

Erin McCall
Amazon Human Resources Talent Specialist

“My husband is British, so Boxing Day, which we call Family Fun Day, is a tradition we always look forward to. We usually spend the holidays in a foreign country that is accessible to his extended family living around the globe. Last year on Boxing Day, we rode camels in Morocco and watched snakes dancing in the square. This year will be a lot less exotic, but we’ll still make it an event with snowmobiling, skating or igloo building in the backyard with friends who are like family.”


SOUTHERN CHARM

Jordan Rhodes
Founder
glimpseguides.com

“I grew up with huge magnolia trees at my home down South, and every December my mom sends leaves from those trees, which I paint gold and incorporate into my holiday decorating here in Greenwich. I add the leaves to garland on my dining room table, mantels and around my staircase banister. It makes me feel connected to my family and childhood and gives our house here a little Southern flair.”


SANTA BABY!

Ginge Cabrera
Co-owner
townhousegreenwich.com

“Christmas was always over the top at my house. My mom had a Santa Mantel, and when my husband, Jimmy, and I started a family, he started giving me Santas. I’m talking pub Santas, sports Santas, beach Santas … between what I’ve inherited or been gifted, I have a couple hundred of them, ranging from two inches to three feet. They go in every room, plus stairwells, windowsills, bathrooms, any open corner. It sounds psychotic, I know, but as the youngest of six, it’s about recreating that big ‘wow’ I had on Christmas morning. When we moved from backcountry to Old Greenwich, I had to put three-quarters of them in storage. The quarter I kept go on display, because it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. When my kids got older they told Jimmy they were afraid to tell me they no longer believed in Santa, because I still do!”


TASTE OF HOME

William Hood
CEO of William Hood & Co. and board member
vitaminangels.org

“I first had sticky toffee pudding in boarding school in England at the age of eight, and it was comforting when I was away from my family. Now when we go to England with the kids, we always have a competition of which pub or restaurant has the best sticky toffee pudding. Twice a year, on Thanksgiving lunch and Christmas dinner, I make it for the whole family. You make the sponge cake, and each time you serve it, you heat up the sauce, which has brown sugar and a lot of butter. My secret is, I’ll throw in half a cup of rum.”


A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

Emma Jane Pilkington Goergen
Interior designer and owner
emmajanepilkington.com

“Last year we flew to my native Australia for Christmas—where I hadn’t spent Christmas since 1982—and wound up in the middle of the wildfires. We were supposed to go to Sydney but couldn’t because of the fires, so we stayed the whole time in Melbourne, in my father’s family cabin that’s been there since the early 1900s on a fly-fishing river. You could still see and smell the smoke; it had traveled that far. My father quickly decided with surrounding people in the area to fundraise to save the rivers at their source in the mountains, where the fires were drying them up and destroying the ecosystem of trout and other wildlife. It felt like the true meaning of Christmas, neighbors coming together in a time of need. This year our new tradition will be donating to keep those rivers alive.”


BEATLE MANIA

Amy Balducci
Realtor
compass.com

“When I was growing up, our local radio station would play the Beatles 24/7 on Christmas while the deejays had the day off. My parents danced to the Beatles the first night they met, so the Beatles on Christmas became a family tradition. When I host the holidays in Greenwich, Paul, Ringo, John and George are still invited. The kids are developing an appreciation for the most famous band of all time, and the adults are so burned out on Christmas carols by the 25th that a little ‘Hey Jude’ is a welcome relief.”


WORST GIFT WINS

Melissa Hawks
Owner
wellappointedhouse.com

“My girlfriends from the city have a long-standing holiday tradition called the Re-gifting Dinner. We are each assigned to a friend, and we all show up at a fun restaurant to hand them the most hideous, hilarious gifts we have accrued through the years, from cat sweaters to half-used candles that have melted into Salvador Dali creatures. The person who brings the funniest gift gets treated to dinner. We may do a Zoom version this year.”


VINTAGE FINDS

Pamela Frisoli
Interior designer and owner
trovarehomedesign.com

“Just before the holidays get in full swing, one of my favorite traditions is a visit to the Greenwich Hospital Thrift Shop. The thrift shop fills its shelves with all holiday donations collected throughout the year. I collect 1950s mercury glass ornaments, the bigger the better. My children love the vintage nativity scene pieces that fill our mantel. A trip to this wonderful shop that supports Greenwich Hospital’s mission is not to be missed.”

Photograph by Garvin Burke


SOMETHING FISHY

Alfred Eskandar
President and COO Salt Financial

“Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve is my favorite meal to cook. I think of it as an entertainer who finally gets a big crowd. I start with a gin martini and go to town with shrimp cocktail and ricotta and anchovy crostini, followed by steamed mussels with shallots, fennel, garlic, crushed tomatoes, wine and saffron, an intermezzo pasta course with shrimp or scallops or a clam sauce, and broiled lobster tails and a whole Arctic char as entrées. I skip the baccala and cheat with Fjord, which has the freshest fish and makes it so easy. I always start with their marlin dip, which knocks out one of the seven right there.”


FAMILY FUN

Mia Pepin
Creative Consultant

“It’s so not Greenwich, but the day after Christmas we rent this 1970s ski cabin called “The Norman Rockwell Suite” at the Casablanca Motel in Bromley for like a hundred bucks a night.

It’s the size of a laundry room, and there’s a blanket hanging on the wall of Norman Rockwell painting his self-portrait with a pipe. We love it, because we can just be ridiculous. We let our son drink orange drinks and eat junk food for breakfast. Then we ski, pack a picnic and hang by the fire pit at the bottom of the hill. Ten minutes away there’s a chi-chi resort but there’s no scene. It’s not fancy; it’s low-key; it’s families who don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Photograph by annapustynnikova – stock.adobe.com


ACTS OF KINDNESS

Jeannie Cunnion
Author and Speaker
jeanniecunnion.com

“Our family hosts a stocking stuffing party—socially distanced and outside this year—to benefit Danita’s Children’s Home, which cares for orphaned children in Haiti (danitaschildren.org). When we first hosted this event five years ago, we stuffed stockings for twenty-five children in one dorm, but the Greenwich community has responded so generously over the years that we are now able to stuff stockings for all 100 kids. This tradition led our family to take annual trips to the orphanage, and also led us to welcome our new son, Andre, into our family. We met him on our first trip in 2017; and after he graduated from high school in 2019, he joined our family to attend Norwalk Community College. This experience has taught our family that one small generous act can grow and take on a life of its own in the most beautiful way.”


PEACE WITHIN

Angela Kilcullen
Registered Yoga Teacher

“All the go-go-go of the season can be overwhelming, so I started an annual tradition called Om for the Holiday with Kaia Yoga. We’re doing a workshop on December 11—most likely virtual this year—to help each other breathe, unplug and recharge, with aromatherapy oils sent to your home. It’s grounding for me to help people feel centered and truly connect to the meaning of the holidays.”

Photograph by Kelly Stuart


SNUGGLE UP

Dancia Rose Callahan
Owner
themonogramstudio.com

“My thing is giving Sherpa blankets to friends and family every December, because it’s like giving someone a hug. Especially now with COVID-19, when we can’t be close like we have been in years past. It’s funny, because I give the blanket to the wife, and the husband takes it. It’s a cozy, snuggly thing to have by the fire or take outside by a fire pit. I may add a discreet monogram, but I never include the year, because it gives it a shelf life. And who really wants to remember 2020?”


FAMILY FIRST

Ashley McCormick
CEO and Creative Director
ashabyadm.com

“For me, the holidays represent home, tradition and treasured time with family—trimming the tree with my daughter, Annabel, baking cookies and playing Christmas music … putting wreaths on every window, collecting beautiful gift wrap and ribbons, and helping my mom cook a Noche Buena Cuban meal on Christmas Eve.”


SUGAR PLUM FAIRIES

Heather Georges
Honorary Chair and CoChair
Antiquarius

“Every Christmas my children know that I’ll be dragging them to The Nutcracker. I’ve supported the New York City Ballet and cochaired its Nutcracker benefit and have been going since I was a child, so it’s been important to me for a really long time. I suspect they’ll have a virtual production this year, and I’ll make a nice lunch, whether we’re here in Greenwich or elsewhere, and we’ll find a way to incorporate The Nutcracker. It sort of cements Christmas for us and has become a Georges family tradition.”


SHARING IS CARING

Izabela O’Brien
Founder and President
thefearlessangelproject.org

“We do an Eastern European tradition on Christmas Eve known as “oplatek.” Oplateks are flat, tasteless wafers embossed with a Christmas scene. Each person receives a wafer and shares a piece with others at the dinner table. The sharing of the wafer is sharing all that is good with life. It is a time to tell each other, ‘I love you; I care about you; and I forgive you’ and can bring relief when a worry or dispute is resolved. It is rewarding to see friends new to the tradition receive as much enjoyment from oplatek as I do, regardless of their faith or ethnicity. Equally important is the Polish tradition of having an extra place setting at the holiday table, in case there is a knock on the door and someone shows up who has nowhere to go. The seat may stay empty throughout the dinner party; however, it is symbolic for our daughters to witness that there is always an extra seat at our table and no one should be alone on Christmas Eve.”

Photograph by Lance Jackson of Parker Kennedy


OVER-THE-TOP DECOR

Andrea Sinkin
Interior Designer and Owner
andreasinkindesign.com
“Each year I try to top the prior year’s holiday décor, and the more bling, the better. I had seen the work of Lance Jackson of parkerkennedyliving.com all over social media and had pinned, saved and stalked it. I even looked for people who tagged him after they bought one of his conversation-starting, glittery, opulent, indulgent and ridiculously awesome wreaths, so I could get joy from seeing them installed in people’s homes. This year I realized I had the perfect spot for one in my dining room. Lance asked me about things important to me: obviously Barbies (I mean, is there anything else?) along with my mom’s vintage angel collection, my husband’s and my initials, our wedding on New Year’s Eve, our disco-ball decor, our daughter’s love of unicorns, our nautical vibe, my obsession with accessories and jewelry … and magically tied in our family’s observance of Hanukkah and Christmas.”


OH, CHRISTMAS TREE!

Nancy Dearing

“A friend of mine started The Chop twenty years ago. We all go to Jones Family Farms in Shelton to chop down our Christmas trees the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Every year the group got bigger, and we started pulling in our friends and the grandparents. We used to do a big tailgate in this part of the property called The Valley with vats of hot cider, mac ‘n’ cheese and chili. Now they’re a little stricter and things have changed, but we still love going and the kids, who are now teenagers, still love running into the fields and choosing the perfect tree. They are always incredibly fresh. Jones supplies the saws, but I’ve learned to bring a tarp for dragging the tree to the baler, a blanket to put on top of the car for traveling, a rope to secure the tree on the car, and a thermos full of hot cider.”


FRY IT UP

Sebastian Boulan

“I joined the Fried Turkey Fraternity five years ago after serving a traditional oven-baked bird alongside a fried one, and no one touched the traditional one. We’ve fried a turkey every Thanksgiving and Christmas since. It’s not glamorous. You’re working outside with the equivalent of a large high school Bunsen burner tripod, a cauldron and a propane tank; but it cooks three minutes per pound, and the Bayou kit on Amazon is really good. Just buy your oil in bulk from Costco, don’t fill the cauldron too high, and don’t drop the bird in wet or frozen, or it will shoot out like a cannonball through your neighbor’s window.”


FREEZING TIME

James Ritman
Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Newmark

“The past few years, my family, my sisters’ families and our parents have been doing the Mannequin Challenge on New Year’s Eve in Florida. Before the kids go to bed, we all pick a spot in the room we’re celebrating in, freeze in a pose and capture it on video with the Black Beatles song in the background. It’s a fun time stamp to have, especially for the kids and their cousins. If we can’t all be together this year, we might each do the challenge at home and splice together a video so it looks like we’re all together.”


GET CHILLY

Christine Lavin
Greenwich YMCA Senior Director of Initiatives

“On New Year’s Day, my husband, three sons and I do a Polar Bear Plunge at Tod’s Point. Yes, it’s freezing, especially when there’s snow on the ground; but you look over and see a seven-year-old doing it or a woman twice your age doing it, and it’s like, ‘Okay, just put on your big girl pants—actually, take them off, and get in there.’ It wakes up your body, clears your mind and renews your spirit.”


AT THE ART OF IT ALL

Lauren Clayton
Artist, Graphic Designer and Owner
studio162.com

“We do a lot of handmade gifts. This past Christmas I made myself, my husband and the kids sweatshirts that are bleached with these really cool designs that have motivational words that I’m often telling my son or my daughter. My husband compiled some of our iPhone videos into one family home movie that I love. My mom loves to cook, so she made a cool binder with some of our favorite recipes; and my dad made a puzzle out of an image of my mom’s quilt, and we all worked on that together. I’ve done a portrait of my daughter and woven in themes about her as an Aquarius and a writer. In return, my daughter made me a handmade gift card to a crystal shop in Nyack. Of course, I love the crystal shop, but really I was just so blown away by this piece of art she created. It takes things up a notch and makes you feel really thought of, beyond just spending dollars.”

Photograph by Don Hamerman


NEIGHBORLY LOVE

Erica D’Antonio
Jewish Women’s Circle Cochair, Chabad of Greenwich

“My favorite holiday tradition is picking out a few presents with my daughter during Hanukkah and driving to the holiday drop-off at Neighbor to Neighbor. She goes in, and for her it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a big deal for a lot of people. There’s eight nights of Hanukkah, but I don’t need eight gifts. This feels better than gifts.’”


KEEPING IT REAL

Richard Upton
ICON International Executive Vice President of Operations

“My new favorite tradition is giving New Year’s resolutions the middle finger. What’s the point? We all disappoint ourselves trying to live up to impossible expectations. Instead, I’m having a small group over, and we’re going to drink fabulous champagne and love ourselves just as we are. Because, Honey, just making it through 2020 is accomplishment enough.”

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