Making Holiday Memories

Ruby Red Tradition

By Amelia Blades Steward

It is a simple holiday tradition, really — one that was passed down from my mother to me. Today, however, it is an essential part of my family’s holiday celebration and one that we all look forward to each year. It started with a trip that my parents took to Williamsburg, Virginia near the holidays in the late 1960s. My mother first experienced “fruit shrub” at the King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. The Tidewater Virginians enjoyed a hearty breakfast between nine and ten o’clock each day, which may have included a fruit drink. Over the years, our family shrub recipe evolved. The recipe now includes the blending of frozen pineapple, orange sherbet, and pineapple juice to make a frothy, icy drink.

Because my parents loved Williamsburg, they always came home from their trips with new ideas for decorating and cooking. About the time my mother discovered fruit shrub, she also found some ruby red glassware in an antique shop in Williamsburg. Putting the two together, she decided to create a new Christmas tradition for our family — serving fruit shrub in the ruby red glasses for Christmas breakfast.

Over the years, my mother added to her set of ruby red glasses. The year my first child was born in 1990, my mother passed the red glasses on to me as I hosted the first Christmas breakfast in my own home. Eventually, my husband and I found a ruby red glass pitcher that matched our glasses in an antique shop in Shupp’s Grove, Pennsylvania so that we could serve the fruit shrub from a pitcher instead of the blender on Christmas morning.

In the hurried days before Christmas, instead of worrying about whether all the presents have been bought or the live Christmas tree is up, my children often call to ask if I have bought the ingredients for the fruit shrub. Now that my oldest son has gotten married and bought his first home, the question will be, can I part with the ruby red glass collection so that he can carry on what his grandparents started nearly 60 years ago? The glasses are already in the box, minus the few I kept in the cabinet like my mother did when she passed the glasses on to me.

Connie Blades has served up her family’s favorite holiday drink, the fruit shrub, every Christmas morning for nearly 60 years.

Fruit Shrub Recipe

1 cup frozen pineapple cut in small pieces

32 oz orange sherbet (1 container)

½ 46 oz can of pineapple juice or less for a thicker consistency)

Combine all ingredients in a blender until frothy. Serve immediately.


Posing at the New Life United Methodist Church in Centreville are from left to right: Madelyn M. Hollis, Shirley Walker and Rev. William A. Ross, Sr.

A Significant Night

By Niambi Davis

Every year that she could, my mother attended New Year’s Eve Watch Night service at her church. She told me its history; that it was originally a tradition of the 18th century Moravian Church later brought to Methodism by John Wesley. From her, I learned of Watch Night 1862 and the significance of Freedom’s Eve to the African American community.

On December 31, 1862, African Americans, both enslaved and free, gathered to wait for the news that Abraham Lincoln had made good on his promise. On January 1, 1863 Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing those enslaved in the Confederate states and paving the way for African American men to join the fight for freedom.

The Watch Night tradition continues in African American churches with sermons, songs and homage to Freedom’s Eve 1862. Testimonies of the old year’s triumphs and challenges are shared with the resolve to look forward with faith. This is done in the spirit of Sankofa, a symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana, which depicts a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back and expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress. After the service, worshippers break bread over breakfast. The traditional black-eyed peas are often served symbolizing the luck that is hoped for, brought about by the “fervent prayers” of the righteous.

“Watch Night is a way to gather together to see the old year out and to be thankful for the time God has given us. It’s a time for trusting in God and looking forward to the New Year.”

—Shirley Walker


A typical Noche Buena meal includes, from left to right: Filipino fruit salad, bibingka, pancit, crispy pata, maja blanca and lumpia which are traditional Filipino spring rolls.

Ruby’s Noche Buena Feast

By Manning Lee

Ruby Vanags, who owns Ruby’s Cakes Shoppe and Pastries on Dover Road in Easton, arrived in the United States in 2005 from the Philippines. As a native of Ilo Ilo in the Visayas Region, she has many vivid and happy memories of Christmas in the Philippines.

“In the Philippines, we celebrate Christmas beginning in September and we don’t quit celebrating until February. Filipinos love to decorate everything. We put Christmas lights in the trees and everywhere including the bushes. We enjoy spending time in the plazas visiting each other while admiring the lights,” explained Vanags.

Vanags still enjoys decorating for Christmas and uses her “parol” each year. A parol is an ornamental, star-shaped Christmas lantern from the Philippines. It’s traditionally made out of bamboo and paper and comes in several sizes and shapes, but the most popular pattern in the Philippines is the star.

“December 24th is known as “Noche Buena,” which is the name of the Midnight Mass in the Catholic Church. After Mass, we go home and celebrate with our big meal,” stated Vanags.

The typical Noche Buena meal includes several key dishes that Vanags enjoys serving at her table each year: Filipino fruit salad, bibingka, pancit, crispy pata, maja blanca and lumpia which are traditional Filipino spring rolls.

On Christmas day, it is a Filipino custom to prepare for an open house or to go visiting.

“In the afternoon, all my god children, nieces and nephews would come to visit and collect their gifts. Typically, we had anywhere from 10 to 15 guests throughout the day. Everyone who comes is hungry and ready to eat,” continued Vanags. At the open houses, we serve the food that was prepared for the Noche Buena the night before. This is a fun and casual all-day event celebrating family as well as friends.


Parols, shown at the top of the photo, are ornamental, star-shaped Christmas lanterns from the Philippines, and are traditionally made of bamboo and paper.

Not only does Ruby Vanags create delicious cakes and pastries in her local bakery shop, she is a wonderful chef and prepared these dishes as samples of her Noche Buena feast.


Festival of Family Fun

By Manning Lee

While Hanukkah is not the most holy festival on the Jewish calendar, it is the most fun festival. Hanukkah is a celebration commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and lasts for eight days celebrated by the lighting of candles of the menorah each evening.

Emily Callahan lives in Stevensville and is active in the Temple B’nai Israel’s community. She and her husband have an interfaith marriage and are raising their four boys (ages 15,12, and seven-year-old twins) in both the Jewish and Catholic traditions. She loves celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah with her family.

Food in every Hanukkah celebration is important and even the food’s preparation has deep symbolic meaning. Lighting the eight candles in the menorah commemorates the miracle of light, representing how the Holy Temple had enough oil in the menorah for just one night, yet it remained lit for eight nights. So, oil plays a large role in cooking the traditional foods.

Some of these foods include:

Latkes: Potato pancakes mixed with onion, egg, flour and seasonings are formed into small pancakes and served with sour cream, which represents bitterness, and apple sauce, which represents sweetness.

Sufganiot: These deep-fried jelly filled donuts are another fried-in-oil delicacy for Hanukkah.

“My family and I love the fun side of Hanukkah like playing the dreidel game and listening to and singing the Hanukkah songs. We also like to light our giant menorah that is three-feet tall. We also have a lot of fun with the Jewish answer to ‘Elf on a Shelf’ called, ’Mensch on a Bench.’ A mensch is a Yiddish term for a person of integrity and honor. I love that Hanukkah has become just as widely celebrated as Christmas. It’s so much fun to buy decorations and Hanukkah outfits for the kids. Even Target and Michaels carry activity books and Hanukkah crafts for the children,” explained Callahan. She added, “Throughout history, Jews have been discouraged from celebrating their holidays openly, but now since Hanukkah has become more mainstream it’s joyous to celebrate Hanukkah because the holiday itself commemorates our survival and religious freedom.”

“My family and I love the fun side of Hanukkah like playing the Dreidel game, listening to and singing the Hanukkah songs. We also like to light our giant Menorah that is three feet tall. ” — Emily Callahan


Sally and Joe Taylor delight their children with the steam from a traditional hot pot dinner — one of the many traditions of Chinese New Year.

Good Luck and Well Wishes

By Manning Lee

Sally Taylor came to the Eastern Shore in 2014 with her husband Joe Taylor. Sally and Joe live in Cordova with their two children (a son age three-and-a-half and a daughter age two). Sally, who grew up in the countryside of Guilin, Guang, surrounded by the luscious green mountains and river scenery in southern China, has fantastic memories celebrating Chinese New Year.

“Each year about a week before New Year, we would clean up and sweep away the old year, welcoming in the good luck of the New Year,” Sally remembers.

“On New Year’s Eve, my father would go to town to market to buy bags of fresh foods, vegetables and all kinds of ingredients while my mother would stay home and decorate. We used lanterns and duilian, which are decorations made from red and gold paper we hung on the on the door frames, that symbolized good luck and well wishes.”

Every year the family ate:

Hot Pot: This hot pot of chicken stock is simmered at the table with a variety of raw ingredients to be placed in the soup to cook much like fondue.

La Rou: These strips of pork belly and leg are salted or smoked before being left to hang in the sun for days, resulting in hard, dark, salty or spicy meat that is eaten all over the country made ahead of Chinese New Year.

After dinner on New Year’s Eve, everyone gathers by the fire and watches TV. In China, there is one state run television network called CCTV. On New Year’s Eve, all channels show one program nationwide. The show is a gala, televised with musical acts, comedy acts, and other entertainment that everyone watches. The show is much like the American “Carol Burnett Show,” — only Chinese Style.

Since her arrival on the Shore, Sally had not celebrated Chinese New Year.

“It just isn’t the same in the States without my family and friends,” Sally explained. This past New Year in February, her husband’s family came to their new home and surprised her by decorating and setting up the traditional New Year foods. Now she wants to renew her tradition and continue celebrating Chinese New Year again — only now with their own young children and definitely with Joe’s family.

Sally’s husband and his family tapped into the true meaning of New Year’s Eve. They knew what Sally had left behind and wanted to recreate for her what she’d been missing since coming to the Shore. Perhaps what Sally left behind she’d truly already found on the Shore that the true meaning of New Year’s Eve is the celebration of family.

“On New Year’s Eve, my father would go to town to market to buy bags of fresh foods, vegetables and all kinds of ingredients, while my mother would stay home and decorate.”

— Sally Taylor

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