Portales families practice holiday traditions

It was the afternoon before Christmas and all through the house, there was fun and noise that could never be mistaken for a mouse.

Marnee Stratton sat at her dining room table, playing the card game Spades with her daughter, a son-in-law and grandson, as another son-in-law and granddaughter made lunch in the kitchen.

Granddaughter Kate, 6, was curled up on the couch in the living room, listening to an electronic book.

"Mom!" daughter Andrea Hunton, scolded her mother as Stratton attempted to coerce with her grandson, Tre Hunton, 11, about which card to lay down.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Paul Hunton, center, makes macaroni and cheese Monday afternoon in the kitchen of his in-laws, Mike and Marnee Stratton, along with his son, Tre, 11, and his neice, Ashlynn Idsinga. The extended family of 24 people usually spends Christmas together, having their traditional Christmas Eve dinner of oyster stew.

Stratton and Tre laughed.

It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve and the extended family of 24 people were enjoying some leisure time before their Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions began.

"We always go to church together on Christmas Eve and oyster stew is always our tradition for dinner," Stratton said. "A lot of times after church, we'll drive around and look at lights."

All five of Stratton's daughters are with her for Christmas, as they usually are, with their husbands and children ranging from ages 6 to 17.

Alisa Boswell: Portales News-Tribune

Marnee Stratton, left, plays the card game Spades with her family Monday afternoon in her dining room. From left to right, her grandson, Tre Hunton, 11, son-in-law Marc Stevens, daughter Andrea Hunton, and grandson James Michael Idsinga, 17, all joined in the game and talked about how their favorite part of Christmas is just being able to spend time with one another.

"We try to watch It's a Wonderful Life at some point," Stratton said of other family Christmas traditions. "Puzzles are also a tradition every year. We put together a puzzle every year."

She gestured to a smaller table scattered with puzzle pieces.

Stratton said that Christmas morning, the family starts the day by opening their stockings then they have a brunch, which includes homemade cinnamon rolls, egg casserole and green chile casserole.

After brunch is presents, then the day is ended with a ham and turkey dinner.

"I'm excited about homemade cinnamon rolls," said daughter Adrianna Stevens, of Albuquerque, of the next morning.

""I think that stockings are everyone's favorite part," Hunton, of Lubbock, Texas, said of the family as a whole.

"It's pretty crazy Christmas day with 24 people and all the presents," Stratton added, laughing.

Stevens' husband, Marc, who is the newest edition to the Stratton family, said it was his first Christmas with his wife's family and he always has fun with them.

"They made me feel welcome from the first day I met them," said Marc Stevens, who is originally from Westville, Ind. "It works out well because when I'm in Albuquerque, my family's far away but hers really is like a second family."

Being Jewish, Portales resident Linda Uttaro doesn't celebrate Christmas but she still has a Christmas day tradition.

She volunteers to help with the free Christmas dinner at El Rancho restaurant in Portales every year.

"For me, Christmas day is not a big thing but to others, it is very important and it's important to them to not be alone," Uttaro said. "It's more of a feeling you get. You just feel good about seeing all these people and seeing everyone a little bit friendlier on this day."

"The Garcias (restaurant owners) do a good thing. They invite strangers all the time. They don't want anyone to be alone. That's just the kind of people they are."

Uttaro said Garcia family also places jars out on Christmas day for people to put money in if they want to. She said they use the money to help those in need throughout the year.

Uttaro said although the meal is free, most people put money in the jar because it's not that they can't afford their own Christmas dinners. It's that most of them would have otherwise been alone.

"People will come in and just volunteer," Uttaro said. "You get brought into the whole idea of it's a good time to share and help somebody."

Here's what other Portales residents had to say about their Christmas traditions:

  • Wade Fraze, 44, a history teacher and basketball coach at Portales High School, said his family's Christmas tradition is reading the Christmas Story from the Bible.

"We read it when the family is all together to remind us of what Christmas is all about," Fraze said.

"We just like being together with family, celebrating Jesus. We do it after the (Christmas) meal and before we open gifts."

Fraze said the tradition started with his grandfather and was passed down several generations. He said he first read the Christmas Story with his family at age 12 and reads it with his children.

  • Pat Gordon, 52, a food service manager with Laredo Taco Company, said her favorite Christmas activity is serving veterans Christmas dinner at VFW post 9515 in Portales.

Gordon said her volunteerism at the VFW includes baking a dessert for veterans.

"I do this to give back for what they've given to us," said Gordon, whose father served in the Korean War.

"They are the reason we're free to go wherever we want during the holidays. We just have fun down there."

  • Angela Mowrer, 21, a floral associate and junior at Eastern New Mexico University, has received a Life Savers notebook with candy pop-outs and Christmas puzzles since she was a child. Mowrer said

She is not too old to enjoy this family tradition.

"It reminds me of when I was younger and all the good times I've had with my family," Mowrer said.

"It made my little sister and I happy when we were little kids and it still does," said Mowrer, with a smile.

  • Jo Crandall, 29, a baker at Roosevelt County Brewery, said one of her family's favorite Christmas eve traditions is serving fried catfish and gumbo, a meal influenced by her previous days in Louisiana.

Crandall said she and her husband Aaron also have a special gift exchange between themselves.

"We never get to have a Christmas, just the two of us," Crandall said.

"So we really enjoy this."

— PNT staff writer Benna Sayyed contributed to this report.

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