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Brevard Families Cultivate Diverse Holiday Traditions

The only thing as diverse as holiday traditions are the families who celebrate them. Whether a generations-old recipe or a new movie watched every Christmas Eve, Brevard families run the gamut on what they celebrate — and how — during the most wonderful time of the year. 

Fostering family traditions

Valeria Jones of Palm Bay is mom to Amayah, 18 and Lawryn, 12, as well as filling the role of foster mom to more than 30 children over the past four years. When the holiday season hits, Jones extends her long-standing traditions with her biological children to her “foster babies.”

“One thing I do is put all of the kids’ names in a hat and then they each draw one. They get $5 to pick out five gifts for that person at the dollar store,” Jones said. “It gives them an opportunity to think of someone else during the holiday season.”

Originally from Delaware, Jones also gets special permission to travel with her foster children to visit her extended family during the week following Christmas. 

“I take the kids sledding, ice fishing, ice skating,” Jones said. “My family there buys gifts for my foster children, as well as Amayah and Lawryn.”

Jones works alongside Brevard Family Partnership, the foster home licensing agent in the county, on other planned holiday events, including breakfast with Santa. For more details on events for foster children this holiday season, visit BrevardFP.org.

Family food customs

Molly Winsten grew up in the Rockledge area before moving to Boston in 2015 where she works as a registered dietician. Along with her family who still lives in Brevard and throughout Florida, Winsten celebrates several traditions beginning with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September and including Hanukkah in December.

“All of these holidays have certain foods, such as jelly doughnuts and potato latkes on Hanukkah,” Winsten said. “To celebrate a sweet new year, we indulge in apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah and my family also makes a slow-roasted brisket with brown sugar and carmelized onions.”

It isn’t just religious holidays that have family food traditions attached, though. 

“We are really into Halloween and always have gluten-free spaghetti and meatballs,” Winsten said. She remembers the many from-scratch costumes her mother, Marlene Winsten, made the three siblings as children, including a Tom and Jerry pair.

“We are also big into Thanksgiving and plan the menu weeks in advance,” Winsten said, adding that she and her father, Keith Winsten, usually collaborate on what will be on the table. “It has become customary for me to put together a massive charcuterie board for the first course.”

Photos, PJs and Christmas cookies

Becci Carmichael of Cocoa is mom to Ayana, 7 and Ayden, 6 and each holiday season she comes up with a new theme. 

“We’ve done under the sea, light and bright, beary Christmas, to name a few,” Carmichael said. The theme that they pick informs the other activities and gifts throughout the season.

On Christmas Eve, the family of three bakes cookies for Santa and makes reindeer food. Later in the day, they find a bright place outside to stage their own Christmas photo shoot. Then in the evening, Carmichael gifts her children a Christmas-themed bag with pajamas and a DVD or book that they watch or read together that evening. 

“We started a special Christmas Eve photo book as a fun keepsake from year to year,” Carmichael said. “Christmas for us is not just a day but the spirit of family, love, and hope.”

Blending established, new traditions

Yuko Deneuville and Nam Nguyen Huu of Suntree moved to the United States from Paris in 2015, settling in Brevard just in time for the 2016 holiday season. Along with daughters Emi, now 8, and Lina, now 6, the French natives had never participated in American holiday customs such as trick-or-treating or Thanksgiving meals. They were happy to add both to Christmas and New Year’s celebrations that they had also recognized in France.

On Jan. 6, the family also recognizes Epiphany by cooking and eating a galette des rois, or a king cake. In February, the family commemorates the Vietnamese New Year Tt. Nam Nguyen Huu is part Vietnamese, imparting the customs and food of his heritage to his daughters.

“The girls wear traditional Vietnamese costumes and they receive red envelopes with money inside for good luck,” Yuko Deneuville said. 

The end of the holiday season doesn’t come until Feb. 14 for the family, with Valentine’s Day.

“In France, this tradition is only between lovers, which is very different from here,” Yuko Deneuville said.  

Good food, good luck

Pam Morales Worsham and Rusty Worsham of Satellite Beach celebrate the holiday season by blending Peruvian and American traditions. Daughters Lucy, 10, and Penelope, 5, experience a hybrid holiday season that incorporates extended family in the celebrations.

On Christmas Eve, three generations gather around the dinner table and enjoy Southern cuisine such as black eyed peas and deviled eggs alongside Peruvian delicacies such as ceviche and tamales.

“Peruvians like to stay up late so there have been times when we’ve been eating our Christmas Eve dinner at midnight,” said Pam Morales Worsham. “My husband still doesn’t understand why it has to be that way.”

Perhaps the Worsham children’s most favorite tradition is to walk around the block on New Year’s Eve with a suitcase — an action intended to usher in travel opportunities and adventure in the coming year.

“I'm not sure if the same fate will apply during the pandemic, but the optimist in us will still have us do this tradition,” Pam Morales Worsham said.

Establishing family traditions

This will be just the second holiday season that Tiffany and Christopher Childs of Cocoa will spend with their daughter, Chloe, who was born in October 2019. Last year, Chloe was too small to participate in many of their combined family traditions -- but now that she is mobile, her parents cannot wait to show her what the season is all about in their family.

“We always have a big extended family sleepover on Christmas Eve that involves cooking and wrapping presents into the wee hours,” Tiffany Childs said. “The kids watch movies, drink hot cocoa and help bake sweets. We drive around to look at Christmas lights and sing Christmas carols.”

The Childs also plan to go pick out a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.

“I want to create special memories for Chloe. I want her to look back decades later and remember Christmas as a magical time filled with love,” Tiffany Childs said. 


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