The Sun Journal asked readers and staffers to share some of their favorite Christmas memories. In this final column of the series, there's a mission visit, Christmas in Vegas and plenty of meat.
"It was still dark Christmas Day in 2007 when my husband and I climbed the stairs to the top deck of our cruise ship anchored in the Sea of Cortez. The snorkeling pro and his wife held the service: The story of Jesus' birth from Luke with a short message. Moments later a truly sacred moment occurred. On our right, beautiful sunrise. On the left, a setting full moon. Christmas carols and Merry Christmas wishes followed. Later we landed on an island beach and enjoyed food, festivities and entertainment.
The next day we visited the Loreto, Mexico, Jesuit mission, founded in 1697. This beautiful stone church was enhanced by an elaborate Nativity surrounded by poinsettias and colorful pinatas suspended from the arched ceiling. As we sat quietly in the sanctuary, local musicians played sacred music. We were invited to the courtyard to be joined by children from a local orphanage. They were the focus of this trip and we all had brought gifts for them.
The children timidly greeted us as we sat around the courtyard. Then we enjoyed Mexican treats and festivities, despite the language difference. A smile and a hug means friendship everywhere. The travelers brought enough gifts that each child received eight! Christmas in Baja California, Mexico, was memorable. We will always treasure its sunrise service and our mission visit."
Carolyn Carter, Lovell
"When I was growing up, we would gather at my grandmother's house in Lewiston on Christmas Day with my dad's three siblings and their children. We would wedge ourselves into the living room where presents spilled from beneath the tree.
In the late '80s an event occurred that was the stuff of McCarthy Christmas legend. We were all sitting snugly around the tree opening presents. It didn't take a rocket scientist to calculate precisely the moment when there were no more presents left for you under the tree. Then time would march by at a snail's pace as you sat politely while the rest of the gifts were opened and you were finally allowed to eat — at the children's table, which was outside on the unheated porch, but that is another story altogether.
On this Christmas, however, it was all about to change. After some quick math told me that no more gifts waited for me under the tree, I slipped out of the living room and into the kitchen. Soon all of the cousins were in the kitchen, and it didn't take long for our rumbling tummies to take over. We began to pick at the ham, which was sitting innocently on the stove top. First a taste, then another, then a chunk.
In no time, we had completely devoured the ham that was supposed to serve the entire family. I was jostled from my ham-induced food coma by the sound of my grandmother yelling. Yes, yelling. Shrill voice, red face — boy, was she furious. And so began the 'Great Ham Ban.' No more ham for us kids. For years.
The ban may have been lifted, but it is not forgotten. Each Christmas, hands are slapped and stink-eyes are exchanged, as someone guards the ham. For the McCarthy family, it's not Christmas until someone shouts, 'Hey, no picking!' Yes, that means you."
Erin Donahue McCarthy, daughter of Heather McCarthy, SJ senior designer, and Bob McCarthy, transportation manager
Weeping in peace
I was 21 and on my way to California. Somewhere in Arizona I realized I'd never make it with the cash I had left. I decided Vegas would be a good bet to get a job.
I never thought I would get stuck there for months, and certainly not for Christmas. I rented a room at the Purple Sage motel, a fair, but walkable distance from downtown. I worked here and there as a cocktail waitress at a few dumpy casinos before earning my union card and landing a much better gig at Del Webb's Mint. During those months a lot of things happened, and one of them was spending my first Christmas alone.
I had the day off. Christmas was known to be a big tip day, and I hadn't been at the Mint long enough to be one of the 'girls' with seniority. I didn't know what to do, but I definitely wanted to get out of my room. Deciding to spend my afternoon at an old man's bar may not sound like a good idea, but it was just a couple blocks away and at least I would have some company.
So it's settled and I change into a pair of cleanish corduroys and leave.
Not a quaint pub, the bar is made of cinder blocks and has bars on the windows. When I open the door, I'm immediately blinded from the change of inside darkness from outside brightness. I manage to find a bar stool and order a drink. My eyes are adjusting as I take a sip of whiskey and coke and suppress my horror. My neighbor has an open gash across his cheek weeping fluid. Nobody seems to notice.
I relax a bit and scan my surroundings and tell myself that at the very least, this will be a memorable Christmas.
Susan Broadbent, SJ designer
'There are angels'
"So (I) had a great day with my mother-in-law shopping. I am enjoying the good days she has, because they are getting fewer and farther between all the time. Also went into BJ's to pick something up and a elderly couple was standing in the meat aisle trying to decide what meat they were going to buy to get them through the month. Overheard them say, 'We have to make the $60 we have left for the month stretch.' So then the man quietly said, 'Let's get the chicken; we can have soup, pie, sandwiches.' Talk about breaking my heart.
I put my item, a gift, back and purchased hamburger and a package of pork for them. I handed it to them on their way out and said, 'Merry Christmas.' She looked at me stunned and he hugged me and said, 'There are angels in this world.' Sorry, but that was the best gift I have ever given. Bless them and may their bellies be full this holiday season."
Cheryl Wade, Peru
Thanks to everyone who shared, and please save those new memories for us for next year.