Turkey or lasagna, fresh or faux tree, traditions center on family togetherness
By Michael Turton
Talk to 10 Philipstown families and you’ll probably discover that no two are alike when it comes to Christmas traditions. Dinner menus vary widely – from traditional turkey to ham to seafood to no big meal at all. Gifts may be exchanged on Christmas morning, afternoon or the night before.
Whether real, artificial or something more avant-garde, there is likely a tree involved. Watch a movie or take a hike – Christmas Day activities are just as varied. The Paper spoke to a small sampling of local residents to see how their Christmas traditions compare.
A treasured ornament that survived World War I
Veterinarian Dr. Peter Bach and his wife, Andrea, enjoy Christmas with a distinct international flavor. “We include lots of German traditions,” Peter Bach explained, and with good reason. His great-grandfather came to America from Germany in the late 1800s and Andrea Bach was born in Frankfurt.
Bach’s most prized Christmas ornament belonged to his grandfather who carried it with him from Germany to Russia and back during World War I. Andrea Bach takes great pride in her traditional wooden ornaments from Erzgebirge or a region known as “Christmas Land” in Germany. Their other German traditions include opening gifts on Christmas Eve and sipping on some mulled wine or cider.
At work, they include a tradition that Peter Bach picked up while living in England. On Boxing Day there – the day after Christmas – workers trade jobs and the Bachs incorporate that custom at their practice. “People see that other people’s jobs aren’t easy – they learn to appreciate what others do,” Andrea Bach said.
There’s no big Christmas dinner for the Bachs. Instead they enjoy something simple, perhaps cold, or a dish that has been prepared ahead of time. “We might watch a traditional Christmas movie together,” Andrea Bach said, adding that It’s a Wonderful Life may be her favorite. For Peter Bach, Christmas is about the music. “Andrea is in the choir at the Presbyterian Church and I love the hymns.” This year they’ll share Christmas with their son, Christian, and daughter, Laura, who is returning from Germany for the holidays.
Let the traditions begin
For Joy Albrecht, Cold Spring may be the place where Christmas tradition begins. “We don’t have that many because we always lived in so many different places. Our tradition has been having no tradition,” Albrecht said as she recalled having spent past Christmases in such exotic locales as Vietnam, Japan, Whistler, B.C., and Hawaii.
After her husband, Greg, passed away she purchased a home in Cold Spring. At first, “I was here but we sat on camp chairs. There was no furniture, no tree,” she said. This year, the camp chairs have been put away and she will host a real Christmas, with members of her extended family coming in from Connecticut, New Jersey and New Orleans, seven people in all. “And my grand-dog Bo will be coming, too.”
Albrecht said the moms will prepare a big Christmas breakfast with the daughters handling dinner which will include roast beef and salmon. She hopes the group can work in a hike at some point during the day. And this year there will be a tree.
“I just wanted something different,” Albrecht said, standing next to her new, 7-foot, ornamental, black-metal tree adorned with many colorful ornaments.
Last year, she and her family enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner at Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill. “We’ll do that again this year,” Albrecht said. A new tradition may have been born.
How did mom pull that off?
Bob O’Brien lives in Putnam Valley and often ventures into Cold Spring as part of his business, which could be described as “carpentry plus.” He was in the midst of a kitchen-plumbing repair when The Paper caught up to him.
He still marvels when he thinks about Christmas as a young boy. “When I was a kid I’d go to bed on Christmas Eve – and there was no tree, no presents,” he recalled. “When I awoke in the morning there was a tree – and presents. Are you telling me there’s no Santa? I don’t know how my mom pulled it off – we lived in a small apartment.”
O’Brien now puts up his family’s Christmas tree – though unlike in his younger days it’s artificial. “People come to my house but it’s getting less and less – they have their own families now,” he said. “My wife cooks a big meal – the same as way back when,” including turkey, turnips, stuffing and more. “It’s like Thanksgiving all over again,” O’Brien said.
The feel of an artificial tree
For 2013, Curt Landtroop and his son Zach Landtroop started what may well become an annual Christmas tradition. Now that Zach Landtroop is 21, he and his dad headed off to the corner pub to share a brew and conversation as soon as he got home from Lafayette College for the holidays.
“We’ll just have a pretty quiet Christmas – my mom, dad and I,” Zach Landtroop explained. “We always have seafood the night before … and we generally have roast beef on Christmas.” Curt Landtroop, who is blind, said his family made the switch to an artificial tree about four years ago. “I can feel the tree – and it feels so real it’s amazing. But of course there is no smell.”
With a hint of mischief in his voice he added, “And we know that Zach is going to have a lot of presents under it for us this year,” a statement that drew a big laugh from both.
Curt Landtroop said that his wife Diane’s cousins from Bronxville would be joining them for Christmas dinner this year. He also reminded his son that a fourth member of the immediate family will also be there – “Windsor,” his guide-dog, a black Labrador. Zach Landtroop said that Windsor, “gets really excited when people open their gifts. I think he just senses the joy.”
Wake up … PLEASE!
“On Christmas Eve we always had lasagna.” That’s how Garrison resident Neal Tomann described his family’s Christmas dinner when he was growing up. “We still do that,” he said. “There was never a big Christmas dinner – because we’d have about 50 people over at Thanksgiving.”
His early Christmas memories might be described as “painfully fond.” One of the most noteworthy was the tree. “It was always set up in the living room and it was big – 10 or 12 feet tall,” he recalls. When Christmas morning arrived, the big living room doors were closed. “No one was allowed to go into the living room until everybody was awake – then we’d all go in as one.”
That was a bit more drama than Tomann could appreciate. “The problem was being a 5-year-old boy, waiting for your 20-year-old brother to wake up. It’s just painful.”
Adding to his pain was that he didn’t have to wait for just one brother. “There were about 15 people to wake up!” Like most families, gift giving was always a part of Tomann’s Christmas and one boyhood present stands out in Tomann’s memory to this day. “I was about 9 years old and I got goalie pads. I swear I didn’t take them off for three days. I think I slept in them.”
Photos by M. Turton