July 3, 2008 · Updated 7:52 PM
"Sleigh rides and candles on Christmas trees. Several of the residents at Careage of Whidbey say they have memories of Christmas their grandchildren will never have. But then there is Santa Clause. Christmas presents. Church services. And family meals. The spirit of the holiday, and the way it is practiced is pretty much the same, they said.Charles Wood said his most vivid Christmas memory is of sitting on the stairs early Christmas morning with his siblings, all in their pajamas, waiting for their parents to awaken so the presents could be opened.Margaret Cooper said she was 3 years old when her older brother took her down the stairs to watch their parents set the Christmas gifts out, ending her belief in Santa Clause. I had to start believing in Santa Clause again, she said. But I always had a little bit of doubt.Virginia Gilbert said she and her brothers and sisters waited all week to even enter their living room on Christmas. Her mother and father shut off the room while they prepared it for the celebration. And Santa Clause always came while we had a Christmas Eve program at church. But for the week before Christmas, nobody was allowed in the living room. So it was always exciting when we got home [after church on Christmas Eve] and mother opened the door so we could see what Santa Clause brought.Then, she said, her father hitched up his old and gentle horse to the open sleigh and the family went riding around the Wisconsin countryside visiting friends.In the 40 years she later spent in Nevada she dearly missed the snow on Christmas. White Christmases, she said, were a thing of the past. It was still Christmas, even though it wasn't white. And one night, it was on New Year's, and it snowed 6 inches. And by the next day the only snow left was where the kids had made snowmen and rolled it up into balls. A familiar memory even for children of the Pacific Northwest.Most of those gathered around Careage's decorated tree in the home's dining room remembered their family lighting the tree's candles on Christmas day. They were only lit the one time, because it was otherwise too dangerous, they all agreed. But even so, Virginia remembers a bucket of sand and another of water nearby, in case the fire spread from the wick to the tree. Margaret said their Christmas tree caught on fire once, and her father dragged it outside to burn. Poor man! It was a wonder that he didn't get burned, she said. Virginia said they had candles, too. Electricity came to their home by the time she was 5 years old, she said. I can remember the candles. And I can remember the first electric lights on the tree.Whatever Christmas memories they have, the spirit of Christmas remains the same today: spending time with family and friends.Remember when we used to have a big Christmas dinner, and it seemed like you sat for hours at the table visiting, and talking? said Ethel. Last few years, everyone took their plate in the living room and watched the television. Everyone around the Careage tree nodded, remembering the times with family.Even doing the dishes was about family time. Virginia says she had an aunt who would love to wash the dishes. As she stood at the sink cleaning, she had a chance to talk to everyone. One by one they would venture into the kitchen, pick up a dish towel to help, and chat with her. It was really special. "