Leona Fessenden remembers a simpler Christmas when decorating the tree was a Christmas Eve delight and the gifts beneath it on Christmas morning came from the nickel and dime store.
"My dad on Christmas Eve, he'd set the tree up and put the lights on, and of course there was always one light that didn't work," laughed Fessenden.
The 90-year-old Willing Helper's Home for Women resident said when she was a little girl the joy of Christmas was found in spending time with a loving family.
Leona Fessenden, a resident at the Willing Helpers Home for Women in Johnstown, places an ornament on a Christmas tree at the home Thursday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
From left, Getman Home residents Lorraine Mason, Jean Nicolella and Jeannine Pedrick talk about holiday memories around the Christmas tree at the home in Gloversville on Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Ethan Desrochers, grandson of Arkell Hall employee Diane Ferguson, hands a gift to Arkell resident Maguerite Summerson at
Thursday’s holiday party.
The Leader-Herald/Amanda May Metzger
"In those days it was very simple. It wasn't like today where children tell their parents what they want. Back then, we were happy to get what we got," she said. "I think the simple way was really the best. You didn't expect big things. You expected something small, and the fact that our parents were there for us - that meant a lot."
While she now lives at Willing Helper's in Johnstown, the former Scotia resident says family - whether relatives or what feels like extended family in the staff and other residents at the home - remains the most important part of the season, and none of it is lost in living in the home.
"It can be a very sad time for a lot of people, but I think being in a place like Willing Helpers where you have other residents and staff helps," Willing Helper's Administrator Tammy Kruger said. "It's the next best thing to being home. We try to make the environment like home."
She will spend Christmas Day at her daughter's home in Pennsylvania, but leading up to Christmas, all the activities and new friends at the home have made the season more special, she said.
At Arkell Hall, the residents gathered in one of the stately rooms in the Canajoharie residence Thursday for a Christmas party where they exchanged gifts from a name-drawing between staff and residents after a visit from Santa and caroling.
"It makes you think of the old times, yet you have new good friends here," resident Maguerite Summerson said after unwrapping a fleece vest.
Activities Director Linda Klump reviewed the highlights of the holiday schedule for the residents, which included the annual Christmas tree lighting, caroling and a special supper Nov. 29, following Nov. 28 when the residents decorated their own tree and reminisced.
In December, residents traveled to Glimmerglass State Park for the Festival of Trees. They baked and decorated Christmas Cookies, went on local shopping trips and enjoyed musicians such as the Choraleers and Gary VanSlyke.
Klump said the residents also participated in three community-service projects. They packaged three serviceman's boxes for the troops, collected mittens, gloves and hats for a mittens tree. The outerwear will be donated to Canajoharie and Fort Plain school districts' students in need. They also put together 102 mugs containing hot cocoa packages and candy canes, for a Christmas mug project. Mugs are donated to the Fulmont Community Center in Fort?Plain to go into Christmas boxes for families.
"Christmas is celebrated by families over a two-week span, so everybody goes out and celebrates on a different day. Many times there are several residents here for dinner [on Christmas]. Many times if family is out of town they come here and have dinner with them. Some have family members who come in and have dinner with them. Some go out, and some stay here," Klump said.
At the David & Helen Getman Memorial Home in Gloversville the residents have a Christmas party and are given individualized gifts by the Board of Managers. The gifts are tailored to each individual, said Administrator Lauren DuBois.
"It's always a happy but emotional time [for some] because they're just not 'home,' but it is a home away from home" DuBois said. About half of the residents go out to visit family on Christmas while the other half stay in. Either way, she said, the staff strives to make the day special.
Residents Jeannine Pedrick, Lorraine Mason and Jean Nicolella said they've enjoyed the food and the visits from carolers and different musical groups.
The residents also read Christmas stories together and enjoyed the simple pleasures of the holiday.
"Different bands come in, and there's lots of entertainment, which I like," Mason, 86, said.
Pedrick, 77, who grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, but most recently lived in Hamilton County, remembers making a molasses candy that would be dropped into the snow.
"If we didn't make that for the children, it wasn't Christmas," she said.
"I just like to be together. Usually you have a lot to eat and you get together and talk," said Nicolella, 86, who will visit with her family on Christmas. "I think it's supposed to be the happiest time of the year to come together for the holidays."
For the three ladies, love is the meaning of Christmas.
"You love your family and you all get together and have a good time. I love to be around children when they're opening gifts," Mason, who also will visit family over?Christmas, said.
Another common memory is attending the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass and of course, singing in the choir.
"I think they enjoy activities like singing and they like to feel like its a family and they're not alone," said Doreen Ford, the long-term care ombudsman who meets with the residents and acts as a liaison between the residents and the facility.
"When they have family nearby, just having them in to visit means a lot," Ford said.
Ford said most of the residents have family living nearby to visit with on Christmas.
"I think with this generation it's not so much the gifts that matter. It's being together with family and friends. Singing and eating together is what Christmas is all about," Kruger said.