Memories Build the Spirit of Christmas

Christmas traditions and the memorable moments that make the yuletide season uniquely special are as wonderfully diverse and varied as we are as people. Most of us have a common definition of Christmas and its origins, yet individually we have our own experiences and rituals that make the holiday intensely personal. Whether we observe family traditions that date back generations — or discover brand new ways to seek meaning in our celebrations — every year Christmas offers us the opportunity to worship, give and reconnect with those important to us.  

Butterfield Trail Village is a home and workplace for hundreds of people who live lives filled with meaning, purpose, fellowship and joy. While it is important to focus on what we do in the here and now, what makes us who we are is the lifetime collection of memories and experiences we carry with us to the present. As we enter the Christmas season, we thought it appropriate to offer a few vignettes about four of our residents who were kind enough to share their own holiday memories and traditions.

Susan Riggs and late husband Charles moved to Butterfield in late 2018, setting up a cozy Butterfield apartment adorned with a number of family heirlooms. Downsizing from a large home to a two-bedroom apartment was in some ways liberating for the Riggses, but it did have its challenges when it came to certain favorite Christmas traditions.

Susan said, “Growing up, my family always had a large real tree. Charles and I followed suit after we married. Moving into BTV and evolving health issues meant an end to that. Not to be deterred, I found a 6-foot-tall fake half-tree online and bought it. It is essentially a tree sliced vertically in half and it fits perfectly in a corner. So, I can still have my tall tree, even if it’s not real!” Susan’s tree tradition is also a bit simpler to manage now because she no longer has a family cat. “For years it loved to climb the Christmas tree, thus requiring that all our ornaments be unbreakable.”

In February 2021, Charles succumbed to lengthy illness. Faced with the emotion and difficulty of determining what to do with some of his personal possessions, Susan remembered seeing “memory quilts” made from special clothing items of loved ones who had passed away. She decided to commission a local seamstress to design and create three lap quilts – one for herself and for each of their two adult children, Stephanie and Brendon.

Susan gathered up a wide array of shirts and neckties especially representative of Charles’s well-known style, interests and school spirit. She grouped the clothing by colors she knew would best fit the décor of three different homes, as well as identified items and patterns that would serve as reminders of the unique relationship each of the three of them had enjoyed with Charles. He was a huge fan of the University of Texas, beautiful Hawaiian shirts, the Dallas Cowboys and Mickey Mouse, and the quilts all display some aspect of those loves. Additionally, Susan had the quilter incorporate blocks embroidered with Charles’s favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13.

Susan gave Stephanie and Brendon their quilts as gifts for Christmas 2021, even flying to Texas with one held safely on her lap to ensure the precious item wasn’t lost or damaged. The beautiful finished quilts are full of character, integrating plenty of traces of special memories and shared interests that keep Charles’s memory alive. “I think they were both overcome at receiving them, but have grown to treasure them,” she said.

Sandi Villinski is a relative newcomer to Butterfield, moving to the Village in the summer of 2022. She has lifelong happy memories stemming from her family’s tradition of attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. She said, “The Nativity scene, lighted candles and singing of Christmas carols create a reverent and spiritual atmosphere for every age.” Sandi also fondly recalled an extra-special gift she and late husband Ted were most excited to give. “One Christmas we announced to our parents that we were engaged and going to be married. They were all delighted, although I imagine my dad quickly started to calculate what the wedding was going to cost!”

In 1984 the Villinski family celebrated Christmas dinner in Malaysia, partaking of special local cuisine served on banana leaves. Food served in this manner is typically consumed using fingers rather than utensils, following a cultural history of elevating the dining experience so that meals are enjoyed with all five senses.

The couple went on to enjoy a long, happy marriage full of travel adventures and three decades of living in multiple countries through Ted’s career in the Foreign Service Diplomatic Corps. Sandi described one particular Christmas when she, Ted and their four children were residing in Malaysia. “Living in Kuala Lumpur, baking supplies were difficult to find. Thankfully, a friend brought us some Hershey’s Kisses® from the U.S. The kids and I made Hershey’s Kiss cookies – a very special treat. The next day when we decided to sample the cookies, all of the Kisses were gone from them! It did not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out who the culprit was. As one, we all turned and pointed our fingers at the oldest son. He tried to proclaim his innocence, but we all knew he had done the dastardly deed. To this day, none of us can see a bag of Hershey’s Kisses without recalling and commenting on that Christmas event!”

For some, one of the best parts of the Christmas holidays is the building anticipation of unpacking and displaying seasonal decorations that connect us to memories of loved ones. Betty Loewer and husband Otto have resided in a gorgeously decorated Village Home since the fall of 2019. The couple displays a fantastic collection of porcelain art pieces, but the most cherished items come out just for the Christmas season.

Betty said, “My mother was a porcelain artist. About 40 years ago she poured Nativity figurines and animals which she painted for me. It is a beautiful set that is the first Christmas decoration I put out and the last to be packed away after the holiday. A true family treasure!”

Betty appreciates the incredible details her mother’s work demonstrates. Each human and animal face is expressive and beautiful, and the delicacy of the figurines is remarkable – right down to Mary’s tiny fingers and the 24-karat gold paint used for the crowns of the Wise Men. An artist herself, Betty meticulously created and painted the stable and extended background, using surprisingly simple materials to complete the final look of the creche display. Betty has a very specific way of wrapping every item to keep everything perfectly safe when stored, and her technique has brought the much-loved Nativity through multiple moves to celebrate many Christmases over four decades. 

Butterfield residents have lived both far and near prior to retirement, collecting friends, family and related memories along the way, yet some of the dearest times have occurred at the Village itself. John and Sally King fondly remember the very first Christmas they celebrated at Butterfield in 2014. The couple brought together their blended family for a very special gathering – and it is the only time when their children, spouses and all but one grandchild were able to be together for the holiday. (In the years following, they have newly acquired three grandchildren, a grandson-in-law and two great-grandchildren!)

Since that one treasured year of togetherness, Sally and John attend different family celebrations held elsewhere, sometimes one on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas Day. Even though every holiday is special when celebrated with loved ones, the Kings will always hold dear that particular Butterfield Christmas.