Stitching Holiday Traditions with Florence Taylor

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Episode Summary

Stitching Holiday Traditions is a special series of the Stitch Please podcast. These are first-person narratives from women in the Black Women Stitch community. They talk about how the December holidays bring about their creative spirit. Learn how their sewing and making enhances their celebrations. In this special, Florence serves a generous slice of Christmas, transporting listeners back in time to her childhood anticipation of Christmas in her Haitian American household and explaining how her early years shape her current holiday practices. Florence reflects on her favorite recent Christmas memories and the shaping of new memories for her three children. She celebrates Christmas with traditional and French holiday music and smells coming from the kitchen and embraces the spirit of giving in her broader community, offering a little touch of family to those in need. And of course, she sews matching outfits for the entire family. Enjoy this amazing episode where Florence shares her insights about the true meaning of Christmas and how we can create lasting memories in our own homes.

Episode Notes

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Florence Taylor  0:00  

Happy Holiday, friends. For those that celebrate, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa. And Happy Hanukkah to you all. If you're listening to me, I can't believe that you're listening to me and I'm saying that, but thank you so much. I want to first say thank you to Lisa. And to her beautiful, amazing podcast, Black Women Stitch, to her supporters, to her listeners, to everyone that is partaking in this beautiful journey of crafting, sewing and creating. So why am I here? Well, our Lisa wanted to see outside of the scope of Black Women Stitch and actually start incorporating more Black women that stitch in her programming, and in reaching out to her, her listeners and her amazing supporters. So I was entrusted to share down with you all with how I celebrate the holidays. This year, we have added on celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah, as my husband is studying Judaism and considering converting to Hebrew Israelites. I'm not going to speak on that because I'm not fully knowledgeable of it. And it's a learning process for us. And it's exciting and it means a lot to him. And we are very mindful of doing things that are spirit lifting for him and our family. Now as to Kwanzaa we celebrate that also, but I do know that there is going to be more in depth information provided by one of our amazing contributors. So I'm not going to touch on that. What I'm going to give you is a slice of Christmas. So, to quote my favorite character, Sophia Porcello, picture this 1970 something. Brooklyn, New York, first generation American, me living in a loud, loving, rambunctious, exciting, demonstrative, Haitian household, my parents, and Christmas. Well, young Florence is the only girl with brothers, all younger. And as such, I took on the role and deed of taking the helms of Christmas very seriously. Come October right after Halloween, I would tell my siblings, "Hey, this is it. It's go time. We're at the finish line, guys. We've done great work up until now. But now. Now, we really need to amp up. We have to start making our Christmas list and by Thanksgiving, give it to Mom and Dad. And 'yay', we're gonna get everything that we deserve because we have crushed it." Oh, the sounds, the cheers the "Rah Rahs" and "Hurray, we can do it," my brothers would say for me, as I rallied them to get ready to, you know, push to that finish line show our parents that we were deserving of all those GI Joes Barbie dolls, dream houses, bicycles, new dresses, etc, etc, etc. balloons, balloons, balloons- because I loved balloons. But come Christmas day, funny thing happened. The tree was not quite what we expected with the bounty of gifts that we all made sure that we wrote on the list. But my parents were loving and thoughtful, amazing, hard working individuals and they gifted us every single day with their smiles with their music with their heart. Christmas for them was not about what we wanted. But what we needed, such as heavy and beautiful winter coats, boots, snow ah snow pants, mittens, socks, new dresses, and such. Now to adolescent children and teens, this was not exciting at all. But now I, as a 48 year old woman, oh please somebody buy me a nice downy wool coat. And please, please give me some awesome sherpa socks. I beg you. But such was not the case in my household. But it was always full of love, laughter and music as I said. I have taken that tradition into my own home now. I did at first give my children the illusion of Santa. I mean, I wanted to, I want to let them have that experience that most of their peers had. The story, the suspense of disbelief, how is one a human being able to circumvent the globe and get to everyone's home, the toys and all the wishes that they wanted in one freaking night? Impossible. But was it? No, of course not. So I did allow them that fantasy of Santa for a while. And then one day, I realized that my children were giving thanks to the wrong person. Unacceptable. My husband and I, we busted our bums to make sure that we provided them a magical and epic Christmas. And guess what we wanted the credit.

Hi. I'm back. I left you off with a cliffhanger, didn't I? Okay, I just wanted to give you the full idea of what Christmas was like, and is like for us. Every year, I get excited about Christmas, not the gifts, not the presents. I get excited about the idea, and the way that we share, and we try to spread our love out to everyone, indirectly and indirectly, that we come in contact with. So what we have started to do as a family over, I want to say the last six, seven years, because I wanted my children to understand that they have a responsibility to our local community, as well as our regional community, and to have the opportunity to provide amazing imprints of who they were, as individuals and their character. I am living in a different state, from my parents and my in-laws. My father is my only living parent now, and they have a grandmother on their dad's side, that's their only loving grandparents. So for us, it can be very lonely at times not having both grandparents, so close by. And as such, we decided a few years ago to adopt grandparents at our local nursing home. What we've done, and we do that for pretty much all the big holidays, we realize that a lot of some of the senior citizens didn't have family that came to visit them as regularly and/or have a reason to be excited about that holiday. And we try to do things monthly. Well, that was pre panorama. Now we just send out cards to whomever we contact the assisted living community with or the senior living community that we've adopted. So what that means is that we contact that nursing home/ assisted living/ senior care home, and ask if there's someone that is in their facility that doesn't have regular scheduled family visits, that seems a little down, that would appreciate having a family send them some things, whether it was a gift, calling, or cards, presents, or monthly or bi-monthly visits. And they were excited about that. And they contacted with us. So imagine, imagined for my kids how exciting it is. Every year we pick a different person that we want to share our lives with. And as such, we do. So Christmas time comes around and we think about that senior citizen that we want to share our holiday with. What are we going to do? How are we going to show them that we care? Well, we take that same premise with the people that are in our lives, whether it's family, friends, etc. We make sure that my nieces, my nephew, their cousins, are providing us the information as to what they want as gifts. My siblings as such, my kids, I have told them and my husband has told them that hey, every single day is Christmas for you guys. We celebrate. We honor you. So let's be, let's think about the things that fill you up.  So Christmas, for them are about those little, that one big thing that speaks to who they are as individuals, right. I have twin girls who are 13 and have a son who's 15. And he'll be 16 this new year. And they all this year have asked for things that speak to who they are as humans, right? And how they want to be seen out in this world and what they want to create and what they want to do. And that's what Christmas means to us. We provide them a big gift or multiple small gifts, that speak to who they are and what they're trying to craft and curate for themselves for that new year. Whether it's instruments, musical lessons, acting, voice lessons, etc., etc. because these are the things that feed their soul. And that's what we're interested in. Christmas for us, whether it is the food that we partake in, the gifts that we share are about feeding our children and the people that we love- their souls, their spirits and their bodies.  

So our Christmas is fun, and it's colorful. It's all alive and it's bright. I start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. Growing up in my house my father has the most beautiful tenor/baritone voice. We would listen to Tino Rossi singing "Petit Papa Noel" We would listen to Christmas music ad nauseum. Bing Crosby and country music Christmas carols and French Christmas carols were all the rage in my house, and as such, I still do that now. Now of course, I incorporate a little bit of Mariah Carey because hello, it is not Christmas unless you're hearing Miss Mariah tell you all she wants for Christmas is you right?! I know. So for us, and how I celebrate Christmas is with music. We sing. We listen. We share. Christmas also are the sounds and smells of delicious cooking and baking. By sounds, I am talking about the stomping and the beating of the dough, because if I am not making Haitian patties for Christmas morning, my kids want no part of me. If there is no bread to have to be had with the soup, please I might as well just leave this house as well as the cookie making. And the dancing sounds of sprinkles hitting that sugar dough and cookie press and everything that goes along with it. And then the sight: lights, cards homemade cards, we cut out snowflakes, and we decorate them. We decorate Christmas, how people celebrate them in different countries and try to find postcards or online images and put them all over the house. We want our house to be filled with warmth and creativity. We want the spirit of Christmas to be about being altruistic and seeing that it is more than presents. It is about community it is about building, and it is about sustaining family and tradition. That's what it's always been for me to the point that I make them leave out their shoes because in Haiti there's a tradition you leave out your shoes from Petit Papa Noel which is Father Christmas, Papa Noel. So you've learned French now in this podcast. Papa Noel is Father Christmas and he will come and he will put money in your shoe not a lot because you know, nobody's strict enough like. There are no red bottoms that the, at the front door that I'm dropping a $100 but I will leave $10 or $20 for the kids and that is their play money. Whatever they want to do. Additionally, we always open a gift Christmas Eve as a family and that is typically a family gift. Something that we all are going to share. Whether it is a board game because I love board games or a trip that we have planned or cooking lessons something that we can all do as a family together. Is that one gift that we open and then everybody goes to sleep. And I am toiling most of all the night making sure that the homemade Haitian hot chocolate is going to be ready for the kids to have in the morning and I will definitely make sure to send Lisa that recipe so that you all can have that experience of Christmas because, let me tell you, the Haitian and hot chocolate is something to be...yeah, it's something to call home about. It's homemade chocolate bark and it is not sweet like how you think regular chocolate might be and you shave it and you steep it in this milk or cream carnation with star anise and cloves and cinnamon and such and it's just magnificent and it's thick. It looks like almost like sludge, but it's delicious and you have it with Haitian bread that I freshly bake. My kids wake up. We go to Mass. If we don't go to midnight mass we go to the very first mass of Christmas day. In beautiful, shiny homemade outfits.

Oh yes freshly sewn gorgeous. We look like the family that you know is the family. Colors are matching and coordinated to the tees, hair and all shiny and all pretty. Baby here is all out. Son fresh hair cut looking fly. We are, we are that family? Oh, yes. So we go to mass. And then we, if we're not visiting any of our in-laws, and we're home, we make sure we call everyone and tell them that we love them, and that we miss them. And we hope they got our gifts. And we laugh and we talk about that. And then we have lunch. And lunch is the thing that I've typically prepped and prepped and prepped for days. And everybody talks about how amazing it is and what their contribution was, and some of their favorite dishes. Then we opened more gifts. Then we watch Christmas movies. I always save my favorite Christmas movies for Christmas day, we do watch a bunch of holiday movies, but on Christmas day, it's always going to be "Miracle on 34th Street" and "It's a Wonderful Life." I love those movies, there's something about them. And then I started incorporating "Scrooge" with Bill Murray, because I love that movie. And it makes me laugh, and we all laugh. And then dinner is typically leftovers from what we had for lunch, and lots of baked goods, everything that are baked. By then friends locally have come to visit and so everybody's in and out of our house. They're taking some of the baked goods that I've made, they're dropping off some stuff, and it's just full of laughter. So for me, and my family, Christmas is about the sights, sounds and smells, the sounds of laughter and music, the sight of color and imagination, and the smells, of how I show my love to them in terms of baking and how I want to nourish them. So, for anyone that's listening, take this life lesson away with you when you want to celebrate the holiday. Let it be the kind of celebration that gives your family and yourself hard memories that on your darkest days, you can look back on that day and that experience and know that you gave the very best of yourself, that you were selfless and caring and loving and mindful to those that you wanted to have seated at your table and those that are implanted in your hearts. Happy holiday, friends, and to you many many more and blessings.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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