The favorite holiday traditions of our staff

We asked our staff to tell us about their winter holiday traditions. Watch our video to see some of their favorite activities, decorations and baked goods, then read the rest of the blog to learn the significance behind these beautiful items. 

Special decorations

Several of our staff shared holiday decorations that hold a special place in their hearts. They are related to cultural traditions, to special people in their lives or to past events.

Dagmar Schildwach, Chief Development Officer
“My favorite Christmas decoration is my Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas pyramid). According to German custom, the Christmas tree isn’t brought inside and trimmed until Christmas Eve. The  Weihnachtspyramide and Adventskranz (Advent wreath) are the main decorations.”

Deb Anderson, Senior Director, Silicon Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s
“The pickle ornament is a tradition that we love. Last year was Marvel Ann’s first Christmas. She was disappointed that the pickle wasn’t food.” 

St. Nicholas collection

Erin Malone, Dementia Care Specialist
“My mom has a St. Nicholas collection that started 30 years ago. She puts them on the fireplace mantle every Christmas. This started when mom took over hosting Thanksgiving. As our family grew, hosting both Christmas & Thanksgiving became a lot for our Gran. Given this, she would bring mom a St. Nicholas as a hostess gift every year. The collection includes St. Nicholas’ found during travels they took together. My favorite is from a family trip to Ireland to trace Gran’s ancestral roots. It never really feels like Christmas until these fellas make it to their place of honor on the mantle!” 

Dori Sproul, Family Care Specialist
“My mother gave me this menorah when I moved away from home to attend college. It represents to me my ‘rite of passage’ to adulthood and my mother’s invitation to begin to establish my own holiday rituals. It has been part of my Hanukkah celebration every year since that time.”

Liz’ menorah

Liz Dasher, Corporate Initiatives Manager
“This photo was my father’s menorah that we lit for Hanukkah every year as I was growing up.  I have so many wonderful memories of celebrating the holiday with my dad. I miss my dad, especially around this time of year and while my dad is no longer here, I light this same menorah with my husband and cherish all the memories that go along with it.”

Shellie Gregoire, Manager, Chico and Yuba City Walk to End Alzheimer’s
“My favorite holiday decorations are my ornaments. I love a good, old fashioned Christmas tree. I can chronicle my life on my tree. I have ornaments from my childhood, ornaments my kids made and ornaments that are souvenirs from places I’ve visited since I was a teen. My favorite ornaments, however, are the ones with photos of the loved ones that are no longer with me. I love hanging their picture on my tree every year in remembrance. This photo shows an ornament of my best friend who passed away 20 years ago, a Santa carving that my grandfather made, a souvenir from taking my kids to Disneyland when they were young, an ornament with my nephew’s handprint, and a Walk ornament to honor our cause.”

Holiday activities

Many staff have special activities that they engage in every year to celebrate the holidays. Some even shared recipes.

Cheryl Brunk, Senior Director, Walk to End Alzheimer’s
“Our family takes an annual trip to Twain Harte to cut down our Christmas Tree. We also collect nutcrackers of all shapes and sizes.”

Jennifer’s son is ready to open gifts

Jennifer Tinkelenberg, Senior Communications Specialist
“Right before we eat our Christmas Eve dinner, we pop our Christmas poppers and share the riddles, jokes, paper crowns and toys within. After dinner, we will sit together and read The Night Before Christmas. We’ve started adding funny commentary to keep it interesting.”

Elizabeth Edgerly, Executive Director, Region 2 Leader
“Our family has a tradition of creating fun, unusual holiday cards each year. One appeared in the Mercury News in a story about creative cards. My mom, who died from dementia, was the one who got me started on wacky fun projects. She would create things with her friends’ faces on them when I was growing up. I still have one of her creations. She loved these cards.” 

Heidi Slater, Family Care Associate – Rural Outreach
Heidi’s family celebrates Chanukah, which started the evening of Dec. 10. Heidi shared a photo highlighting a few of their activities: 

  • Menorah and candles – we light one each night for eight nights.
  • Dreidels – we play a game where you spin the dreidel and follow the rule for whichever Hebrew letter the dreidel lands on.
  • Latkes (potato pancakes) – they are a traditional Chanukah food that we cook.
Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread)

Tessie Calligeros, Community & Volunteer Engagement Manager
“The traditional bread we make for Christmas is called Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread). My mom and I make multiple loaves, one for each household in our immediate family and an extra one for each of her grandchildren.” If you’d like to make your own Christopsomo, Tessie recommended this recipe.

Sarah Hurley, Human Resources Manager – Region 2
“Here is my gluten-free Clementine Cake. I discovered this recipe several years ago because I never could have dessert after Thanksgiving or Christmas.” 

Clementine Cake (Gluten-Free)

Ingredients

  • 4-5 Clementines – can use lemons but increase sugar to 1-¼ cups
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-⅓ cups almond flour and about 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
  • Gran Marnier or your favorite liqueur, optional

Directions

  1. Recommend cooking 1 day in advance for best results
  2. Cook Clementines in a pot, covered with water and bring to a boil; then cook at a low simmer for 2 hours. Drain and cool.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Butter a springform pan and line with parchment. For best results, cut out the circle and line the sides with strips of parchment.
  5. Cut each clementine in half and remove seeds.
  6. Dump clementines (with skins and pith) and give a quick blitz in a food processor.
  7. Add all remaining ingredients, except sliced almonds, and pulse to a pulp. 
  8. Pour cake mixture into prepared pan.
  9. Bake for 1 hour. After 40 minutes cover lightly with foil to prevent burning. It’s done when the skewer comes out clean – do not overbake or the cake will be dry.
  10. Cool in pan on a rack about 20 minutes.
  11. Poke plenty of holes in the top and drizzle in your favorite liquer (optional) or  make a glaze of confectioner’s sugar, clementine juice, or liqueur.
  12. Decorate top with sliced almonds 
  13. Cool until room temperature and serve. For best results, cover until the following day.

However you are celebrating the holidays this year, we hope that you are able to take part in some of your favorite traditions…or maybe create some new ones. Please stay safe and reach out to us if we can be of support: 24/7 Helpline, 800.272.3900 or alz.org.