Holiday Traditions From the VisionAware Peers: Part Two

manger scene with cradle, chickens, cows, sheep, horses, Mary and Joseph

Editor’s Note: This year, the VisionAware peers, all of whom have vision loss, wanted to share their favorite traditions. This post is the second the series. Be sure to read Part One.

Linda Fugate-Gifts in a Manger

Christmas is a time filled with traditions from the start of the season on St. Nicholas Day to the ending on the feast of Epiphany. There are Advent calendars, cookie baking, and Secret Santa. I could not pick just one tradition, so I am sharing two:

First Tradition

The first dates back as far as I can remember. I was raised Catholic. Each year I would wrap a can of food with paper, ribbons, and bows and  take this to Mass with me on Christmas morning. At the end of the telling of the Christmas story all the children would bring their ‘birthday’ gifts to the baby in the manger. We would then sing Happy Birthday. I remember doing this even as a teenager. As a young mother I first brought my children up to the manger and then helped them wrap their gift. When we moved away from that parish, I took the tradition with us. We would wait until after Mass was over and then bring our gifts to the manger. This tradition has been passed on to grandchildren and even great grandchildren.

Second Tradition

This tradition started when my children were growing up. I raised 5 children as a single parent and money was tight. I wanted the children to give to each other, so we started a family Secret Santa. It works like this: everyone gathered at the chosen store, usually Kmart or Woolworths. I would hand each child a piece of paper and set a 30-minute time limit for them to go make a list of items in the store they wanted: I also set a $5.00 limit for the gifts. At the end of the time, I would gather the lists. I placed each list in its own envelope along with $5.00 bill. Everyone picked an envelope and shopped for the person inside. Now here is the catch, not only were they all in the store at the same time, but they were also hiding from each other! When they were done shopping, they would come back to me and we would see who came the closest to spending the entire $5.00. Then it was home to hide in corners and wrap the presents. Then we have cookies and cocoa, and open the presents, all the while trying to guess who had drawn each name. Several of my children have continued this with their families. It is an amazing amount of fun!

Mary Hiland-Granddaughter Plays Santa This Year

sock ready to be stuffed with lip balm and other small items.

Filling stockings to be hung by the fire has always been a tradition for me, even though we never had a fireplace, and I always knew it was my mother who filled my stockings. I used my own socks, not a store-bought or handmade fancy Christmas stocking. I always used socks except for the year my devilish aunt convinced me to hang up my panty hose!  Then as my own kids grew old enough to get a kick out of the filled socks, the tradition continued.

As my daughter became a grown-up, she filled my socks and we always shared a laugh when we each put a tube of lip balm in the other’s sock, along with other well-chosen goodies. Now, as distance and sheltering in place make it more challenging to carry on that tradition, I had to get a little more creative. In the box of Christmas presents I mailed this year, I tucked in a large sock filled with small gifts, including the lip balm. My teenaged granddaughter is playing to play Santa this year as I will not be able to be there. I asked her to transfer the goodies I had for my daughter from the stocking I sent to the sock my daughter always uses. And yes, when I call on Christmas Day I will remind my daughter to dig way down to the toe of the sock to be sure to get the lip balm!

Steve Kelley-Scrooge in Many Different Versions

Over the years, I have maintained a holiday tradition with the story, “A Christmas Carol.” In fact, some in my family might tell you it is a bit of an obsession, as Christmas rolls around. I love reading the book and watching reruns of the older versions of the movie, like the 1951 black and white version of “A Christmas Carol” (titled “Scrooge” in the United Kingdom release version) featuring Alastair Sim; or the first film version with sound, from 1935, also titled “Scrooge.”

At one time, before the advent of YouTube and streaming on-demand, this meant scouring the TV listings to find when these were being broadcast, which was often late at night Christmas Eve. As technology changed, I bought VHS cassettes, and later, DVDs of these movies when I could find them. Now, of course, they are readily available whenever I want thanks to YouTube.

Technology Has Greatly Changed Reading and Viewing Options

Like the videos, reading “A Christmas Carol,” has also changed with technology over the years. My well-worn hardcover print version of Dickens’ tale rests snugly on a bookshelf, where it has been for many years. Standard print became increasingly difficult for me to read about 20 years ago and required a handheld magnifier or video magnifier. After trying to read the book once or twice with a handheld magnifier I looked for a better alternative, and found it, with electronic text. Project Gutenberg was one of the first to offer a copy of “A Christmas Carol,” which I downloaded and put on a laptop, over 20 years ago. I made the text larger and formatted it so I could read the book easily using the up and down arrow keys.

Fast forward several years and subscriptions to Bookshare and National Library Service (NLS) Talking Books, and there are more options for reading than ever before! Bookshare, like Project Gutenberg, has an electronic text version of “A Christmas Carol,” that can be read using a wide variety of apps on the computer, tablet, or smartphone. I downloaded my copy to the VoiceDream Reader app on an iPad. This app offers many options for text size, contrast, and a built-in screen reader if I just want to hear it read out loud. Chances are, if I want to listen to it, rather than read it visually, I’ll open the narrated version, I downloaded from NLS BARD on the BARD Mobile app, also on my iPad. This version is narrated by a professional reader and can be far more engaging than using a screen reader, when just reading for pleasure.

As an avid reader over the years, I confess there was a time when I worried that some of my traditions, like reading “A Christmas Carol,” or many of my other literary favorites might not be possible if my vision declined. I am delighted to realize this holiday season that I have so many reading and viewing options available, the challenge is not in reading, but rather just finding the time for my obsession… or rather, my annual tradition of reveling in Scrooge’s transformation on Christmas Eve.


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