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Powerful Christmas Season Traditions

By Patti Shaffer

It’s the Christmas season and with it brings to mind many much loved traditions that are a bit magical and at the same time, quite powerful. For one thing, they bring family and friends closer together. They also help create new memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Perhaps more importantly, keeping these traditions alive helps remind us to pause from our busy lives to reconnect and build bonds. And, also keep the memory of those you have loved, and lost, alive in your children’s hearts. They are the ones most affected by traditions. It gives them a certain sense of security and belonging. Traditions are also a way to pass down family values to our children who will, we hope, pass them on to their children. This is one of the true gifts of Christmas!

Here are both new and familiar Christmas traditions from families who live in the Smithfield community.

“The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year,” says Susan Traficante. To her family and friends, she is known as the ‘Cookie Nazi.’ About 15 years ago, Susan started a cookie exchange get together. “At that time we lived in a tiny apartment while our home was being built and I thought, what could I do to still feel the holiday,” says Susan. “So I started a cookie exchange party.” Susan invites family and friends and friends of friends. “So pretty much the same faces each year,” she adds. “I love hosting because it is about spending time with each other and catching up.” She adds, “I do, however, try to control the cookie selections so we all bake different cookies!”

Sue Round who attends the cookie exchange every year says, “I am reminded of the importance of friendship and the importance of tradition in our lives. Seeing familiar faces, laughing, joking, reminiscing and sharing joys and life’s challenges all help me get in the holiday sprit.” She adds, “Although making dozens and dozens of cookies is a challenge in today’s world, it is well worth the effort.”

Jennifer Trainor is married and has four children, ages 4, 8, 10 and 11. One of her family’s favorite traditions is having four Christmas trees in their home during the holidays. Jennifer says, “When I was a child, I always wanted my own Christmas tree in my room, so now I have one tree for each of my children. The grand tree (12 feet tall) that we cut down goes in the living room and we decorate it together, and each ornament we hang tells a story. On our yearly family trip we purchase a new ornament. The kids love pulling each one out of the box and reminisce about their trip. Then its time for the star. It’s a special time at our home and the kids take turns each year putting the star on top of the tree. We keep track of whose turn it is on our basement door.”

Deb and Tom Howard are life-long residents of Smithfield and have raised two boys, now 20 and 23. They are also about to adopt two young sisters that they have been fostering for the past three years. Since the beginning of their journey in Foster Care, Deb and Tom have had thirteen children live with them. Many of them now grown often come back to visit.

“One of our favorite Christmas traditions includes a trip to Lockwood Tree Farm, along with having hot chocolate and a Santa visit,” says Deb. “We also go to see the lighting of the big Christmas Tree in the center of town—and at last, when it’s time for bed, putting on our new, Christmas Eve PJs.”

She adds, “As foster parents for over 15 years, the best part is sharing these simple things with children who may not have experienced a full, loving, holiday spirit. It also has been a great experience for our ever-expanding family.”

Every year on Christmas Eve, Kate Zimmerman, her husband Greg, and their four children, ages 7 through 16, travel to their Uncle Tom’s house in Barrington. Kate says, “my father-in-law has seven brothers and sisters and with all of their kids and ours, we have close to 45 people, 15 of them are children. Each year we have a Yankee swap for grownups (27 last year.) This year, Kate also bought ceramic tree ornaments she and her family will paint and hang on their Christmas tree. Gregg will make his famous Christmas cookies—the ones his mom used to make before she passed. He also makes chocolate bombs and peanut blossoms. Plus Kate makes her coveted chicken broccoli wontons.

And then there are new traditions.

This year, many of the Cerullo clan, (all together there are thirty-three of them including adults and children who are all descendants of the late Lillian and Michael Sr. of Johnston) will be once again be attending the Smithfield’s All-Lit-Up Parade on December 2nd. Currently, there are six families of the Cerullo clan who are either children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Lillian and Michael Sr. that live in the Smithfield community and the rest of the clan reside in the neighboring towns of Greenville, Glocester, No. Scituate, and also Connecticut.

This year, thirty members of the family will not only walk in the parade, they have also built a float themed: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The children will be the Whoville kids; Rick Tavis, Jr. will be the Grinch; and the rest of the clan will be the adults of Whoville.

Barbara Cerullo Tavis, one of the ten children of the late Lillian and Michael said, “It was instilled in us when growing up that family always comes first. The ten of us sisters and brothers have passed this down to our children and today all our children are more like brothers and sisters than cousins. Now Lillian and Michael Sr.’s great grandchildren are just as close as the original ten sisters and brothers. She adds, “Our whole family has a contributed their talents in this new tradition for us and hope that this will be the start of a long tradition for the Cerullo families.”

On Christmas Eve, one of the Shaffer’s family traditions for the last 38 years is to gather and read the timeless Christmas classic, The Polar Express by Chris Allsburg. This year will be exceptionally special for our family since it now includes our 18-month-old granddaughter!

Yes, the world around us is changing fast, but luckily there are some things time can’t change—our memories, our loved ones and our traditions. They are some of the true gifts of Christmas!

“That bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”