A Thanksgiving tradition comes to an end

Home by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

For years, the extended Stambaugh family gathered as one at Thanksgiving. Not this year.

When I was a youngster, we had a rip roaring good time on Thanksgiving Day. Usually we celebrated with our cousins, the offspring of my mother and her two sisters. We would assemble at the old farmhouse of Uncle Kenny and Aunt Vivian, who we affectionately called Auntie Bibbles.

It was like Christmas before Christmas. With 17 cousins ranging from teenagers to toddlers, we relished the day together. We would play games inside and out, if the weather cooperated. I’m sure the adults privately prayed that it would.

Marvelous fragrances filled the old farmhouse from the array of good food cooking. The adults chatted while they prepared the savory meal. The family matriarch, Grandma Frith, oversaw all the action in her reserved but proud southern hospitable manner.

We occasionally had to wait on my father to arrive before we ate. Much to my mothers chagrin, Dad loved to hunt rabbits and pheasants on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t the hunting so much as being habitually late that drew Mom’s ire. Of course Dad has his tales to tell.

Once the meal was over and the kitchen and dishes cleaned, the adults joined in the merriment. If I remember correctly, they often raised more clamor than the kids. That’s because they were all good sports and lovingly embraced each other’s company.

Maren and Daryl by Bruce StambaughAs the families grew, the Thanksgiving tradition underwent a logical metamorphosis. Each of the three families began to celebrate the blessed day on their own. Most of the cousins were no longer children, but adults with spouses or significant others of their own. The rambunctious cousins were beginning to bear rambunctious children of their own, too.

My family would gather at the home where we were raised. Somehow we all managed to squeeze in the little brick bungalow. Realizing their place was a bit tight for the growing family, Mom and Dad added on to make more space for holiday gatherings.

Each family chipped in with their specialty dishes to make the feast complete. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and, of course, pumpkin pie filled the table of plenty.

After the meal, Dad always had to turn on the Thanksgiving Day football game on the TV. No matter what else the assembled masses wanted to do, the game was part of the ritual.

Family gathering by Bruce Stambaugh

Over the years the grandchildren, as they tend to do, grew into teenagers themselves. Today, they are all mature adults, productively contributing to society, using their various skills. Some with children of their own, they are scattered geographically from New York City to Atlanta, Ga. to Chicago, Ill. to Wooster, Ohio and places in between.

For our family, for the first time for as long as I can remember, there will be no collective Thanksgiving gathering for the Stambaugh side. Our mother died last April, and Dad has been gone since Christmas 2009. I think we all made every effort to meet for them as much as for the meal. Now that need is gone.

Thanksgiving 09 by Bruce Stambaugh

This Thanksgiving the families of my four siblings and mine will each do their own things. We are all right with that. We will embrace this new transition in our lives and be thankful for the day, the memories of the past and those to come.

It just may be our new Thanksgiving tradition.

This column was published in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Christmas isn’t about hustle and bustle

Snowy decorations by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowy decorations always add to the Christmas celebrations.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t watch much television. But what little I do, I can’t help but notice how the torrent of holiday-oriented commercials focuses on the urgency of buying something really nice for that special someone in your life.

Celebrating Christmas in our advanced society seems distorted. A brand new car wrapped with a huge red ribbon and bow sitting in the driveway, a sparkling diamond ring and a gold necklace cannot supersede the original gifts of the Magi.

Eager for customers, the ads have managed to push their way to the forefront of the holiday season much too early. Growing up, the countdown to Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday. Today, it seems to start the day after Labor Day.

Watching for buggies on Christmas Day by Bruce Stambaugh
Watching for buggies on Christmas Day.

Even here in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we feel the hustle and bustle of the season. Without admitting it, we might even add to it. It’s always easier to see the fault of others than your own.

Wreath on frosty window by Bruce Stambaugh
A frosty holiday decoration.

I don’t want to be negative about Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday of the year.

I just think that given all the commercialization of Christmas, we need a different approach. As I reflect on the historical account of the Advent season that I learned early in life, it seems more and more obvious to me that Christmas really is more about patience than it is presents.

I have many fond childhood memories of readying for Christmas, and the excited anticipation of Christmas morning. My brothers and sisters and I couldn’t wait to raid the pretty packages strewn beneath the tree on Christmas morning. That scene was not the model of patience.

Mom and Dad had stayed up late assembling and wrapping the gifts for us kids. We always pushed our luck at getting up before the crack of dawn to undo what it had taken Santa and our folks hours to prepare.

But what a happy morning it was, with the excitement of surprise with every unwrapping. Those days were simple compared to what passes as season’s greetings today. I find the entire holiday hubbub of shopping, buying and spending exhausting.

Opening gifts by Bruce Stambaugh
Exchanging gifts at Christmas is part of the family tradition.

I long for the true peace and quiet of Christmas, with the family gathered, the fireplace blazing, the tree’s lights sparkling. Of course, we maintain the gift-giving tradition. We have just toned it down so that reason rules. We want the gifts to represent personal quality instead of absurd quantity.

The stockings hang by the chimney with care. They are filled on Christmas Eve, and emptied on Christmas morn. Just like when I was a child, an orange will be the last to tumble out of each.

The grandkids will watch The Polar Express over and over until the DVR wears out. We’ll play games, eat, and bask in the glow of the moment and the season.

Decorating the tree by Bruce Stambaugh
The grandchildren enjoy helping to decorate the Christmas tree.

Our modern society may rush the Advent season and judge it by its economic success. But as for me and my family, we will enjoy each others company, joyously share our humble appreciation and rejoice that it is Christmas once again.

Those are Christmas gifts worth waiting for.

Holiday hospitality highlights church walk

Church walk visitors By Bruce Stambaugh
By Bruce Stambaugh

The visitors came from near and far. All were treated to a good measure of holiday hospitality during the first Candlelight Church Walk held in Millersburg, Ohio on Dec. 10.

Five Millersburg churches were chosen for their close proximity to make it easy for people to walk from stop to stop. At each church, visitors were kindly greeted with a combination of church history, tours, Christmas displays and holiday refreshments.

Visitors were given a map to follow to guide them from church to church. They were heartily greeted at each church, which was festively decorated according to its own holiday traditions.

Yet, many common elements connected the quintet of denominations. The candlelight segment of the walk came in the form of luminaries that lined the front sidewalks and guided visitors into the individual sanctuaries. The luminaries were unique to each church, giving visitors a foretaste of what was inside.

Jim and Kim Sabo drove three hours from Bridgeport, West Virginia to do the tour. The Sabo’s consider the area their second home. When Mrs. Sabo happened to see the church walk mentioned online, they didn’t hesitate to do the tour.

At St. Peter’s Catholic Church, a couple that had retired to the Millersburg area for the peace and quiet found it in the sanctity of the walk and the people they met along the way.

Visitors to the Faith Lutheran Church marveled at the handmade decorations on the lovely Christmas tree at the front of the church, and rested at tables in the fellowship hall to enjoy homemade cookies and punch.

Live nativity scene by Bruce Stambaugh
Millersburg Christian Church featured a live nativity scene in the sanctuary.

A live nativity scene brought a respectful hush over those who passed through the Millersburg Christian Church sanctuary. The nativity actors, all attired with period costumes, filled the pulpit area.

At First Presbyterian Church, visitors enjoyed refreshments upon entering the foyer, and could inspect the decorated sanctuary at their leisure. Louisa Erb, of Mt. Eaton, said she had always wanted to see the Presbyterian Church but never had.

“I like architecture and the church is very nice,” she said.

Making the piano sing by Bruce Stambaugh
Arlene Yoder made the piano sing at Millersburg Mennonite Church.

Several members of Millersburg Mennonite Church provided visitors with seasonal music that included various musical instruments. Each church provided a variety of refreshments.

Friends Lisa Lawhead, of Millersburg, and Cindy Funk, of Shreve, met at a local restaurant, and then decided to do the tour. Lawhead echoed a comment heard at nearly every church.

“I have been by this church many times,” she said, “but had never been in it until tonight.”

Others, like Bill and Barb Roderich and Tom and Pat Albu, of Canton, made the drive to do the tour at the invitation of friends. They said it was more than worth the drive. The evening ended with caroling at the First Presbyterian Church.

Lead organizer Kate Findley, who attends the Presbyterian Church, said she and the other planners were pleased with the turnout.

“We hope to do this again next year,” she said. “We really thank all the people from each congregation who made this event go so smoothly, and of course thank those who chose to take the tour.”

A survival story for the season

By Bruce Stambaugh

The story didn’t get much play in the mainstream media of the United States. But I found it incredibly noteworthy if not uplifting, especially during this Advent season.

If you missed it, here’s what happened.

Sometime in late September, three teenage boys slipped into a 12-foot boat and headed to one small Pacific island from another. Unfortunately, their outboard motor ran out of fuel before they could reach their destination, the atoll island of Tokelau.

If you have never heard of it, don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either. Curious though, I looked it up. It’s part of an archipelago many miles northwest of Samoa.

Samoa I had heard of. As a child, I perused the many shiny black and white photographs that my late father had taken when he had visited Samoa and surrounding islands during his stint on the U.S.S. San Diego during World War II. The water buffalo and the thatched roof huts of the Polynesian island natives fascinated me.

Maybe it was that bit of sentimentality that drew me to the story initially. Once I read the first few sentences, however, I had to know the full story.

With no oars and no fuel, the boys and their tiny boat drifted far away from any land. Soon they were deep in the expansive Pacific, adrift with only a handful of coconuts they had thrown into the “tinnie,” the colloquial tag for their vessel.

The blazing sun beat down on them, and they parceled out the coconuts, the only food they had. The boys floated aimlessly for days, parched without vital drinking water.

Day after day they sat helpless in the tropical sun searching the horizon for signs of land or other boats. A series of fierce storms cropped up at night, nearly capsizing the boat. The boys hit the boat’s bottom and clung to the sides to steady their small vessel.

The storms provided an upside, however. The boys lapped at puddles of the fresh rainwater left by the downpours. Once, at night, a ship passed close to them, but because they had no light of their own, the boys could only watched in despair as the big ship glided by.

Once the coconuts were gone, their only food came in the form of small, flying fish that happened to jump into their boat. Another time, a bird landed on their boat and one of the boys managed to grab it. They devoured it raw.

Again desperate for water, the boys began drinking small amounts of seawater. Near the end of November and some 50 days after they had left their little atoll, a deep sea fishing boat approached them. This time it was during the day, and they and their little boat were rescued 800 miles from where they had originally launched.

The boys spent a few days in the hospital to regain nourishment and strength, but it would be more than two weeks until a boat would take them back to their small country of 1,500 residents.

Fascinated by this amazing story, I typed in Tokelau into Google Earth. I wanted to get a visual on their tropical homeland in the middle of the Pacific.

Sure enough, the program took me right to it. I zoomed in to see the series of small islands, all formed from volcanoes. The residents lived on the rims of the inactive craters. Amazingly, picture icons were posted. I clicked on them, and shots of a tropical paradise emerged. Swaying palm trees, pristine beaches, and deep blue bays beckoned.

I mentally kept connecting this joyous, improbable survival story with the one on which the Advent season is based. Like the Bethlehem account from long ago, with its unlikely cast of characters, this miraculous tale had to be shared, too.

How Amish celebrate the holidays

Amish church by Bruce Stambaugh
Amish on their way to church near Mt. Hope, Ohio. Church was held in a member's home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The Amish enjoy celebrating the holidays just as much as anyone else. They simply go about it a bit differently.

Defining how the Amish celebrate America’s most time-honored holidays deserves an introductory explanation. The Amish are divided into church groups, usually about 100 persons per church. And by church, they mean fellowship, since they hold church in their homes, shops or barns.

There are actually many different types or orders of Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish are considered to be the lowest order, with the New Order Amish the highest, since they hold Sunday school on the alternate worship Sundays.

Using the terms “lowest” and “highest” is not intended to be derogatory or even hierarchical. It simply is the way it is with the Amish. Those in between are the Old Order, by far the most numerous in among the Amish population. The orders are simply determined by rules of the church leaders.

Clearly, defining the Amish is a lot harder than their simple lifestyles might let on. Nevertheless, they all celebrate the holidays one way or another.

The key to understanding how the Amish do so lies in this understanding. You can’t generalize about the Amish. Their holiday traditions and rituals vary from family to family, church-to-church and sect-to-sect, not much different that any other culture or ethnic group.

Modesty is a major principle in the values of the Amish. That fact can be seen in exactly how the Amish keep the holidays. In living out their faith beliefs, they do so joyously surrounded by food, family and friends.

Here then is an overview of how any given Amish family, save those in the Swartzentruber order, might celebrate the holidays.

Thanksgiving

Most Amish take advantage of this national holiday just the way the rest of the country would. They gather with family, extended family and friends and enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, a vegetable and of course dessert, usually homemade pie.

However, instead of breakfast, many of the Amish fast prior to the large noon meal. Fasting is a physical sign of purification in preparation for the celebration.

The lower order Amish, however, have a different take on Thanksgiving. They see it as an opportunity to prepare for the winter months ahead. For them, Thanksgiving is the big hog-butchering day. They’ll save their substantial meal for another later.

Christmas

From the Amish perspective, anyone not Amish is considered “English.” The Amish recognize and respect the “English” demarcation of Christmas on December 25. For them, Christmas is a sacred day in honor of the birth of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. And here again, many, though not all, will fast prior to their family gathering.

Amish actually celebrate Christmas twice, once on the standard date of December 25, and again on January 6, commonly referred to as Old Christmas. In higher religions, that day is known as Epiphany.

Unlike the rest of society that celebrates Christmas, the Amish do not have Christmas trees or decorations. They will, however, burn Christmas candles in honor of the day.

After the usual Christmas meal of turkey or ham and all the trimmings, the Amish will spend the afternoon and evening away playing table games, board games and cards. None of the card games would involve using face cards.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gifts and the Amish carry out this tradition of gift giving as well. The gifts will be wrapped, but usually nothing elaborate. Children will receive toys.

Since not all of Amish Country is Amish, the usual holiday decorations and activities occur like in the rest of Christendom. Millersburg, the Holmes County, Ohio seat,  holds a Christmas parade, Santa included, and on December 10 will initiate its first candlelight church walk from 6 to 8 p.m.

Berlin, Ohio, the hub of Amish Country, has a luminary ceremony. Even little Mt. Hope, where mostly Amish live, has a Christmas parade and a live nativity scene. Santa, however, is nowhere to be found.

Old Christmas

Old Christmas harkens back to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the latter stages of the Reformation when Pope Gregory XIII switched Christmas to December 25. Out of tradition and reverence for their forefathers, the Amish have continued to honor Christ’s birth on January 6.

Unlike the more jovial December 25 celebrations, Old Christmas is more solemn. It begins with fasting, followed by another typical Christmas meal and some more gift giving. However, the emphasis is on reflecting and visiting as apposed to reveling.

No matter which holiday is being celebrated, family is always an important element in any get-together for the Amish. And that is true for any Amish order.

Christmas walking tour planned for Millersburg churches

By Bruce Stambaugh

A candlelight walking tour of five churches in Millersburg, Ohio is planned for Friday, Dec. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The tour is designed to coincide with the Advent season, according to Kate Findley, of Millersburg, who is coordinating the event.

“We want this to be a relaxing, enjoyable evening for families,” Findley said. She is a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Millersburg, one of the participating congregations.

Findley said that the churches will be decorated for the holidays, and that each church will have representatives on hand to provide historic information about the church.

“Participants can also enjoy music and refreshments at each stop,” Findley said.

Churches participating include Faith Lutheran, 187 South Clay Street, First Presbyterian, 90 South Clay Street, Millersburg Christian, 125 North Clay Street, Millersburg Mennonite, 288 East Jackson Street, and St. Peter’s Catholic, 379 South Crawford Street.

Findley said people can begin at any church they choose, and tour at their leisure. Maps will be available at each stop to guide people from church to church.

“Everyone is invited to complete the evening at the First Presbyterian Church, at 8:15, for a time of Christmas caroling,” she added.

“This is an opportunity for people to visit church buildings that they may have never been to before. Some people might attend their own church and drive by others, but have never seen them.”

Findley said the five churches were chosen because of their close proximity.

“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to walk from church to church. But they also have the option to drive the tour.”

Parking is available at each location.

All dressed up for the holidays

By Bruce Stambaugh

If you ever wondered what an old-fashioned Christmas really looked like, the Victorian House in Millersburg, Ohio will let you cure your curiosity.

Victorian House Millersburg Ohio
Each holiday season the Victorian House in Millersburg, Ohio is beautifully decorated inside and out. (Photo provided by the Victorian House.)

Every year local businesses, organizations and individuals spend two weeks transforming the historical, 6,000 square foot Victorian House into “Holidays at the Mansion.” The 28-room, three-story mansion comes alive with Christmases gone by.

Area decorators create holiday splendor as it once was by decorating multiple Christmas trees, window decorations and decorating several rooms with authentic and festive period accessories. Displays of lights and garland will festoon the exterior.

Victorian House Christmas Tree
The holidays are celebrated in every room of the Victorian House in Millersburg, Ohio. (Photo provided by the Victorian House.)

“This year we will have several new room sponsors that will add a fresh new look to this year’s decorations,” Mark Boley, Director of the Holmes County Historical Society, announced.

“In addition,” Boley continued, “a special holiday exhibit will be on display in our ballroom.” Harry Wilson, of New Philadelphia, will have several of his one-of-a kind egg art on exhibit. Wilson is affectionately known as “The Egg Man.” Wilson uses the natural color of the eggs from ostriches, emu, geese and chickens to create unique works of art.

The Victorian House will be open for holiday tours Monday through Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m., and Friday through Sunday, 1 to 8 p.m. through December 31.  The Victorian House will be closed both Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

The Victorian House has been featured in Victorian Homes Magazine, and on the Home and Garden TV show Victorian America.

You can take your time enjoying the Victorian House holiday decorations since the tours are self-guided. Costs are $8 for adults, $7 for those 65 and older, and $3 for students. Children are also welcome to check out the holiday flare since some of the rooms are dedicated for kids. The kids can look for Santa in an old bathtub. Every woman’s House will sponsor a special room just for the kids. There is no charge for children 12 years old and younger.

Besides the holiday decorations, the Victorian House showcases the historical collection of the Holmes County Historical Society. The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

L. H. Brightman, a wealthy industrialist from Cleveland, built the Victorian House in 1900. It is located at 484 Wooster Road in Millersburg. The Holmes County Historical Society uses the mansion as its headquarters

To arrange a group or bus tour, call 330-674-0022 or email the Victorian House at info@holmeshistory.com.