Though I was raised in a Jewish home, my parents wanted us to experience Santa. We had a Hanukkah bush instead of a Christmas tree, and he'd leave presents next to it. Now that I am in an interfaith marriage, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah and have many traditions that I cherish. We use my mother's latke plate every year, and during Hanukkah, the kids select their nightly present by reaching into a big bag that holds all eight nights of gifts. I also give my children ornaments that represent their hobbies at the time, and my husband, who is a police officer, gets a police ornament every year.
My grandparents used to live in a big, old-fashioned house that was decorated beautifully with a huge tree. My brothers and sisters and I would wake up really early, walk down the stairs, and get our stockings first. We'd take them up to our rooms and play with the little toys and eat the candy until 7, and then we would go back downstairs to open the rest of the gifts with my whole family and eat cinnamon rolls. It was magical.
Pizza maker/dad's assistant
During the holidays, my whole family goes to Apple Hill to cut down our Christmas tree. After we find the perfect tree, we always eat lunch in the same little restaurant nearby. I love piling in the car, listening to Christmas music and spending time together. It's always a really special day.
Future police officer
I have so many wonderful holiday memories like cutting down a Christmas tree and then decorating it as a family, and now that I'm married with a son, I get to follow my wife's family's traditions as well. One of my favorite things that they do on Christmas Eve is to read the story of Jesus' birth and then do a living Nativity of sorts. All of the grandchildren have a part; last year my son was baby Jesus. Since there are two new babies in the family now, he'll probably be a sheep or something this year.
As a child, we would have a big Hanukkah party, and my mother invited every friend in the book whether they celebrated Hanukkah or not. Potato latkes were always on the menu, and we would set up griddles outside and all of the girls would take turns cooking them. Now that I have children, I've discovered one of the benefits of eight nights of gifts is that it takes the pressure off. If they open a gift and say they were hoping for something else, I can run out and get that gift for the next night. And we discovered last Hanukkah that my husband is an excellent sufganiyot baker; I'm hoping he will make them again this year.
Retired engineer/crossing guard
I grew up in Russia, and we didn't have the religious freedom to go to church or celebrate Christmas. I knew about Christmas, of course, but we weren't allowed to observe the holiday on Dec. 25. Instead, we would have a big celebration for the New Year, with a tree, gifts and all of the things that are traditionally done on Christmas.
Retired school administrator
I remember when I was 10 years old in 1936, and my biggest wish was to get a bicycle. I knew my parents weren't able to do that, but my big brother, Tim, surprised me with a bike under our Christmas tree. He was 10 years older and was working as a newspaper deliveryman, and saved his earnings to make my wish come true. It was wonderful. I rode that bike all over San Francisco where I grew up, including taking it on a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge.
We like to celebrate. We go to houses and look at the lights. Santa brought me a camera last year and it's my favorite. I want a Barbie RV this year. When we're waiting for Santa we have a special plate and it says, "Cookies for Santa," and we're going to leave chocolate cookies and carrots for the reindeer.
In general, Christmas is a special time of year. It seems like everyone is on their best behavior, and it's just wonderful to come together. We forget about our grievances and simply enjoy each other. Now that I have nine grandchildren and a great-grandson, I've discovered that one of the benefits of getting old is that some things just get better. As a friend used to say, as long as you are on the right side of the grass, everything is pretty good. I am a woodcarver with the Tri-Valley Carvers, and last year my carved Santas were on display at the Firehouse Arts Center, so that was really neat.
At the end of the World War II, metal was very scarce, and I wanted a bicycle so very badly. I did get one; it was a blue-and-white used bicycle, but it didn't matter in the least. Its name was Lightning, and I had it from the time I was 7 years old until I graduated from high school. When I left home, I left the bike behind, but Lightning was my buddy.
Compiled by Kerry Nally