Seniors share childhood memories of Christmas

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Residents of Job Haines Home who shared memories of Christmas, from left, Maureen Sheridan, Helen Lucking, Judy Primanore and Frank Reciniello

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Editor’s note: Late last week this newspaper visited the Job Haines Home and asked residents to share Christmas memories. The responses came quickly.

Maureen Sheridan said she was an all-Ireland ballroom dancing champion, winning three consecutive titles. Her Christmas memories go back to the Dublin suburb of Whitehall.

“St. Stephen’s holiday, the day after Christmas, is a big holiday,” she said. “On Christmas, it’s a family day, everyone stays at home. On St. Stephen’s Day, everyone visits.”

Sheridan remembered that when she was a child Santa Claus did not leave gifts under the tree. Instead, he left them at the foot of the child’s bed.
“I asked my mother how did Santa get the presents down the chimney,” she said. “My mother said ‘he’s magical and breaks down the chimney to get down and fixes it on the way up.’ As kids, you believe it.”

Helen Lucking, who grew up in Maplewood, had something to say about Santa, too.
“If you’re talking about Santa, I had a twin brother and my father was always Santa,” she said. “When my father spoke, he had a German accent.”
Lucking said every Christmas before Santa made his appearance at her home, her father was “called away” from the house to fix a neighbor’s tree lights. She laughed remembering this.

“And then he came back dressed as Santa Claus with the bag over his back,” she continued. “But before Santa would give us our gifts, we had to sing ‘Silent Night’ in German.”

She began to sing softly, stopped for a moment, started again, then stopped.
“I forget the words in German now,” she said.

Santa’s visit apparently occurred while Lucking’s family was entertaining, because she recalled the guests laughed with delight when Santa asked the children to sing for him.

But then came the Christmas when Lucking and her brother stopped believing in Santa Claus. This happened when a family friend, also with a German accent, wanted to play Santa and give the children their presents.

“When he rang the doorbell, right away we knew it was him and that was the end of Santa,” she said.
Judy Primanore, who grew up in Bloomfield, said that when a child stops believing in Santa Claus, a parent experiences a sense of loss.
“On Christmas Eve, my aunt and uncle would come over,” she said. “We could open one present. We were allowed one present. And we’d go to Mass at Sacred Heart.”

On Christmas morning, Primamore was up at the crack of dawn. “My brother would come into my room with this fake candle and we’d go downstairs,” she said. “My parents were sleeping.”

When she had her own home, she took care of several children for their parents.
“I’d see the children get a little suspicious about Santa Claus and I’d worry and tell their parents, ‘It’s up to you.’ I wouldn’t tell them there wasn’t a Santa Claus. I didn’t want that on my conscience.”

Primamore said she was never away from home at Christmas because it was a time for family — and seeing people you would not ordinarily see and enjoying food you would not ordinarily have.

“I don’t know if there’s that concept now,” she said.
Frank Reciniello, who grew up in North Newark, said, “Christmas was a big day. You got up in the morning, went to church.”
He attended St. Francis Church.

“My father had a favorite bottle of wine and we’d make our own,” Reciniello said. “Of course, my mother, sister or aunt made ravioli or cavatelli. Everything was handmade.”

Christmas also meant a trip to see relatives.
“We’d go to Jersey City and celebrate the holiday,” he said. “I had an uncle on 2nd Street and my godfather was on Brook Street.”
An uncle who lived in Bloomfield drove everybody to Jersey City on Christmas Day.

“He owned the car so he was everybody’s servant,” Reciniello said.
All the Job Haines Home residents agreed they’d had fun remembering how they celebrated Christmas as children.