As December comes around again, many people put up a Christmas tree, go to White Castle, and watch terrible television. Yet most people have unique traditions that make the holidays special as well. The Weekly caught up with a few South Siders this week to find out what makes the holidays special for them. As told to Bridget Gamble at the Hyde Park Dunkin’ Donuts and Kiran Misra at Kusanya Café in Englewood.
Grace Brent and LeRoy Boyle, family friends
Leroy: My favorite Christmas albums are Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke. “Silent Night” is my favorite carol. We sing it every year.
[Since growing up in Hyde Park] the Christmas spirit is still the same. I used to like to go out on Christmas Eve around eight in the evening in the Loop and get bargains. You could park on the street—I used to get a kick out of that. Marshall Field’s was my favorite place to shop. Smokey Joe’s too. It was a men’s clothing store. You could buy Stacy Adams shoes for $39.99 back in the eighties.
Grace: My mom used to take me to Marshall Field’s to get my picture taken with Santa. That was always the tradition.
Leroy: We love exchanging gifts. We always do that with the family and set a price limit. I’ve gotten things I never would’ve imagined—a tweed jacket, watches, and stuff.
Grace: I remember as a kid waking up real early trying to catch Santa Claus. When we came down in the morning, all the gifts were there. My parents put so much into it to make sure we had a merry Christmas. A nativity scene, elaborate dinners—just beautiful. Those are memories I have forever.
Leroy: Everyone is so friendly at Christmastime. I wish Christmas would last all year long.
Lakina Statam, from Englewood (currently lives near Bronzeville)
Every single year, my mother cooks whether we’re at her house, my auntie’s house, or whoever’s house. It’s not a holiday unless we play spades. My family plays spades all the time. Sometimes, there will be like three games going on at the same time because everyone wants to play at once. The most important thing to us is really just anything that allows us to spend time with family.
Brent Fergusson and daughter Lily Fergusson, 4 years old
Brent: I’ve been here with my wife nine or ten years. We’re kind of developing special traditions now since the kids are young. We did the Polar Express train last year. We get on at Union Station and it basically drives back and forth for a while and they put on a show with lights. Santa does pictures at the aquarium, so we’ve seen him there for a couple of years. Lily was not a fan—I can’t really blame her.
Lily: I can’t remember meeting Santa. Did he give us presents?
Lily: Can we put up our Christmas tree?
Lily: I decorated the tree with my grandma before. Did I put the star on?
Brent: Yes, you did. I can’t believe you remember that.
Pierre Washington, from Kenwood
I’ve missed a lot of Christmases because I’ve been locked up for the last four holidays. Before that, I had some decent holidays, but I don’t really remember any of them. When I was locked up, holidays were pretty bad. You didn’t get any of the good food, and you didn’t get to see your family. You could still make phone calls and stuff and there was a sense of camaraderie, everybody on deck—we’d try to make our own holiday, make it work out—but it wasn’t the same because your family wasn’t there. When I’d call home, my whole family from Louisiana, from Tennessee, from Texas was together, but I wasn’t. I’d hear their voices, but I couldn’t see them. I’m going to see them this year, though, and I’m really excited because I haven’t seen them in a minute.
Eleanor Thomas, from Englewood
My holiday tradition is to go to church, first of all, then go home and meet with family. The most important thing for me is to spend time with family because I believe these holidays have become too commercialized. Oftentimes, people are working two or three jobs, so Christmas is a good gathering to let everyone come together. Sometimes people don’t even know how to set the table because they’re so used to having a TV tray in one room and a TV tray in another room. So the holidays are time for families to come together because a lot of the time, the only occasion families are getting together for are funerals. This is a good time for everyone to come together to share ideas, complaints, everything. We can disagree, but we still need to spend time together. It means a lot to be able to get together and talk around a table.
Cordell Payne, from Roseland (originally from Lincoln Park)
Payne: I go to my great-grandmother’s house for the holidays every year and my family barbecues no matter how many degrees it is outside. Instead of frying a turkey or anything, we’ll just grill. It’s always nice because sometimes it will get really, really cold in Chicago, but when we’re barbecuing food outside, we can have a whole party outside while there’s snow on the ground. The heat of the grill will just keep everybody warm. Afterwards, we all play games like bingo for money. You can potentially walk away with a hundred dollars in money that you won in prizes.
KM: Doesn’t someone have to lose that money for someone else to win it?
Payne: Nope, someone in our family will come up with a game and provide the money for the prizes. Entry into the games is free and if you win, you can win five dollars, ten dollars, trinkets, snacks, little gifts. The games are set up to be fair for anyone to win, so if you win multiple times, you can walk away with sixty dollars, seventy dollars.
Joseph Beard and son Justin Beard, ten years old
Joseph: We always go for the Thanksgiving Day Parade on State Street; that’s a family tradition for us. We visit family members around the city the day before Christmas or the day after. Christmas Day, it’s just my family—a small family of five here in Hyde Park.
We love to cook and play games. We’re Monopoly fanatics, unfortunately. It can go on until someone has to go to work or we fall asleep. I have twins—they’re seventeen—and my youngest is Justin.
Justin: My favorite thing to do after I open my presents is actually to read the box to see what the toys can do. I actually do that. I also like visiting my cousins because they are really fun. A few days ago, we visited them for Thanksgiving. We were playing hide-and-go-seek in the dark. Someone popped out of the closet and they fell. Everything in the closet came out and we all had to put it back in.
Joseph: It’s about twelve of them, all the same age. We also go ice skating the week of Christmas right at 55th. It’s nice. The kids have a ball. Plus I get to have my favorite beverage out there; I drink my coffee and watch them.