Snow. Lego sets. Latin dancing. Family dinners. Opening presents. Doll houses. Hotel Pattee.
All of these evoke images and feelings centered on Christmas traditions and experiences. Several Perry residents stopped for a few moments during this busy holiday season to share thoughts about their favorite Christmas memories, traditions and gifts.
Legos, Santa and Hello Kitty
The Eric and Sara Dowd family, with children Andrew and Emily, are all about family and tradition when it comes to Christmas. Both Eric and Sarah have memories tied to being with family on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. They have now have created some of their own family traditions.
Three years ago, Sara began purchasing special Advent Lego sets for Andrew. Each evening, he gets to open a door in the calendar. Inside each door is either a small Lego figure or a part of a Lego figure that can be put together as the days to Christmas progress.
“They have different themes to choose from,” Sara says. “There is a city theme, a Star Wars theme and a Pirate theme for example.”
Now she also does the same thing for Emily.
“It gives them something to look forward to, and helps them mark the days to Christmas,” she says.
One rule is they have to be good during the day to be allowed to open a door on the Advent calendar at night.
Legos make up one of the favorite gifts Sara received from her parents, and recently, her mother brought the Lego set from Sara’s childhood back to her.
“It is a tower with archers and swordsmen,” she says. “I remember I had trouble putting it together, and my father sat down with me and helped me for a couple of hours.”
Some of the pieces are missing, and she’s trying to find them.
“Some can be purchased from the Lego Company, but others aren’t even made anymore and have to be purchased from places like eBay,” she says. It can get expensive so she has been buying just a few at a time.
“When I’m done getting all the pieces, we’ll put it together and I’ll put it up for a while, probably in Andrew’s room,” she says. “Andrew loves Legos. He’ll probably put it back together.”
Eric says he received a lot of gifts he felt were the best at the time he received them, but says none of them stand out as the absolute favorite one. As an adult, Christmas is more about gifts for the children and getting ready for Christmas, he says.
One smell always reminds him of Christmas Eve with his grandparents, and that’s oyster stew.
“One Christmas my sister said she would taste it if I did, and I said yea, sure. She told me she shouldn’t have asked.” They both tasted the stew, and neither liked it.
If there is snow on the ground, he and the kids like to go out and make a snowman.
“Sometimes we are borrowing snow from other people’s yards, but we make a snowman,” Eric says.
Andrew, 9, and in fourth grade, particularly likes the acoustic guitar his aunt bought him for Christmas last year.
“The problem is I’m left-handed, and Mom is having trouble finding a guitar teacher who will teach a left-handed person,” he says.
Andrew hasn’t played it for a while, but he says he is looking forward to taking lessons sometime in the future.
Emily, 6, loves the Barbie doll house she received for Christmas last year.
“It has a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen, a dining room and a bedroom. It also has furniture,” she says.
She has eight Barbie dolls she plays with in the doll house.
As far as getting ready for Christmas goes, Emily likes decorating the tree.
“I get to choose where the ornaments go,” she says. “I like the Snoopy one and My Little Pony one. There’s also a SpongeBob ornament.”
She’s sure Santa Claus knows what she wants.
“Last year he gave me some Hello Kitty stuff. He knows I like Hello Kitty,” Emily says.
Emily and Andrew have to wait until 7 a.m. Christmas morning. Then everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to open gifts. The night before, on Christmas Eve, the Dowd family gathers with other family members at the Perry home of Eric’s parents, Jim and Jean Dowd, when they also open gifts.
A special dollhouse
Arlene Hamman will never forget the dollhouse her father made and gave her for Christmas when she was a little girl.
“I was sick a lot when I was little, and I remember lying on the couch and playing with the dollhouse,” she says. “There was a lot of furniture in the house. It had two bedrooms, a front room, a kitchen and a bathroom and was a two-story house.”
She doesn’t have the dollhouse anymore, but she does have one piece of furniture she has kept all these years — a small cast iron replica of an antique refrigerator.
More recently, her daughter, Sandy, buys her a new figure from the Byers People collection each year.
“I have a lot of Byers People I put out for Christmas each year. They are a collection of carolers and figures associated with winter.
“She lets me pick out the ones I want before Christmas,” Arlene says.
When her husband, Ed, was alive, she and other family members would buy him wooden German-made incense smokers. The collection is still displayed in a curio cabinet in Arlene’s apartment.
Snow for Christmas and dancing
“Having snow for Christmas is the best gift I can get,” says Tony Ayala.
He moved to Perry with his parents from Mexico when he was 5 years old, and he had never seen snow before. At 22, his favorite Christmas memory is still going outside during the first Christmas he was in Iowa and playing in the snow.
“We got here in September, and I just remembered how I couldn’t wait for the snow,” Ayala says. “It was just me and my sister with my parents then, and when I think about it, that was just the best Christmas gift and Christmas ever, to see the snow falling down.”
Like many Iowa families, Ayala says he has many family members who gather at his home in Perry. Some come from Mexico for the holiday to be with family but also to experience the snow.
After the big meal has been served, furniture is set back and the dancing begins.
“We do Hispanic type dances like Salsa, that type of thing. My family loves to dance,” Ayala says.
Free rooms, lots of family and a camera
When Marilyn Pentico looks back on the many Christmases in her life, she particularly relishes the one celebrated at the Hotel Pattee in Perry in 2003. There had been a drawing for four free rooms, and she won the drawing. In September she decided that it would be fun for her and husband, Jim, and their four boys and their families to stay at the hotel for Christmas.
She used her four free rooms and booked a couple more, and they all spent Christmas Eve at the hotel.
“I didn’t have to mess with making supper. We bought supper for everyone, and that was their Christmas present,” Pentico says. “Gifts were opened after supper. There were 15 people there to eat supper, and then afterward some of us went down and bowled in the bowling alley downstairs at the hotel while others went to the exercise room.”
Marilyn says everyone got to do what they wanted to after dinner and seemed to really enjoy it.
“I would say that was one of the most different Christmases I’ve had,” she says.
In her childhood when they lived at Rippey, she remembers how each Christmas Eve her father would take the family into Perry to see the Christmas lights while her mother stayed home. When they were gone, Santa Claus would visit and leave presents.
Her most recent favorite Christmas present form her children was a good camera and a photo printer.
“The kids often pool their money to buy Christmas presents,” she says.
On one recent Christmas, she received a digital camera and a printer, which she uses extensively.
Just last year she and Jim received gift certificates for meat from Fareway.
“Food is always a good gift,” she says.
Merry Christmas from all of us here at Perry Living.