Fond Memories and Cherished Traditions

A look at some of the favorite holiday traditions, songs, gifts and memories of prominent people in harness racing.

by Dave Briggs

This week, Harness Racing Update polled some of harness racing’s biggest names to ask them four holiday questions:
1. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
2. What is your favorite holiday song?
3. What is your favorite holiday memory from your childhood?
4. What is the best gift you have ever received?

John Campbell
1. All of us having Christmas Eve at the house of my daughter Lisa and son-in-law Jeff and then everyone coming to our house on Christmas Day.
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, the Bruce Springsteen version or Gene Autry’s version of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.
3. Spending Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house. They lived just down the road. I realized very early that it was special.
4. I’ve had too many good gifts to single one out. I’ve been very fortunate and Santa has been very good to me over the years.

David Heffering
1. With the Hefferings, it’s about family and food. On Christmas Eve, we have what we call Snacky Night, which is a bunch of hors d’oeuvres. We usually watch Elf and then Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation. I have a sweatshirt with that whole speech that Chevy Chase gives in that movie. I love it. Then everybody goes to bed and I stay up and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Christmas morning Nora makes apple spice coffee cake and we sit around eating that and drinking tea. Then I do the farm chores. Christmas dinner is usually a rack of lamb for us. Boxing Day is usually Asian food.
2. I don’t really have a favorite song, but I have a favorite CD. It’s A Blue Christmas by Alligator Records and it’s done by old-time blues singers doing versions of Christmas songs.
3. I grew up living with my mom and there was a 10-year age difference between me and my brother. I’d open presents Christmas morning and then jump in the car and drive to my brother’s house in Greenwich, CT. He and his wife always had a fancy meal. We always had shrimp cocktail and he would cook a goose or pheasant. One year it was beef wellington.
4. The best gift I ever received was also one I gave. I took the whole family the day after Christmas and went to Turks and Caicos and spent New Year’s down there.

Yannick Gingras
1. Getting up on Christmas morning and watching my kids coming down the stairs and starting to open their presents. The smile on their faces in my favorite.
2. O Holy Night. I like Mariah Carey’s version, but the song, in general, is my favorite.
3. As a kid we lived on a farm and Santa always seemed to get stuck in the snow on our property. So, we would get a horse harnessed, use a big sleigh we had and all of us kids would get in to go help him out. We usually had a lot of family members at our house. Santa would then come back to the house, get warmed up, give the kids a present then we would all get back in the sleigh and bring him back to the end of our property and watch him walk into the woods thinking he was going back to his own sleigh. It was terrific
4. I honestly can’t think of best gift.

Frank M. Antonacci
1. The holidays always center around family and food for us. My grandmother, wife and other ladies in the family get together to make homemade pizzas for Christmas. We also have a traditional Italian Christmas Eve, a fish heavy meal featuring an unforgettable lobster sauce over linguine. This is followed by another day of feasting on Christmas, featuring special Christmas eggs (with chives and cream) and fresh ham for dinner!
2. Baby it’s Cold Outside.
3. Long nights at my grandparents’ house with lots of great food and conversation always featuring a surprise visit by Santa.
4. My son, Frank Joseph, was born on New Year’s Day, so that is by far the best holiday gift I have ever received.

Julie Miller
1. My favorite holiday tradition is our family’s annual outing to New York City to see the Christmas Tree and Macy’s Christmas windows. The NYC Christmas Tree sets the mood for a beautiful holiday season.
2. I love so many holiday Christmas carols. This is a tough one. My favorite would be Joy To The World by the Children’s Choir.
3. My favorite childhood memory was getting ready for Santa to come! I remember writing my Christmas letter and setting out the sugar cookies and milk for Santa to enjoy!
4. The best gift I ever received as a child was at six years old. It was Lite-Brite. My best adult gift was an unexpected pair of diamond earrings from Andy.

Paul Kelley
1. Getting together with family and friends for a traditional family Christmas party with lots of spirits.
2. White Christmas by Nat King Cole
3. Always getting together with family.
4. Any time Santa brought me a new table hockey game.

Jack Darling
1. Being with family and really looking forward to our new Christmas tradition of sharing it with our first grandson — Julian.
2. Do They Know It’s Xmas — Band-aid 1984. All the top British performers of the day got together to perform it. Great song.
3. I have nothing but great memories of Christmas as a kid growing up. It was always very exciting for me.
4. My best gift was when I was 11 years old. It was a toy rifle called a Johnny Seven. It was a machine gun that could shoot seven different plastic bullets, grenades, missiles etc. It was advertised on TV every day and I wanted one so badly I could taste it.

Murray Brown
1. Shopping. I’m one of the few men who actually enjoys doing it. Although, I will admit, that sites such as Amazon have made me lazy doing it.
2. The Christmas Song by Mel Torme. I’ve always found it fascinating that the song was written by a Jewish guy in a heat wave in July. White Christmas was also written by a Jewish guy.
3. I loved getting and giving those Life Saver books, where you got rolls of various Life Saver candies. Today, I like the fact that several ice cream manufacturers make limited editions of peppermint stick ice cream, my favorite.
4. By far my granddaughter, Annika, who was born a few days later on Dec. 28.

Linda Toscano
1. My favorite holiday tradition is we open one present on Christmas Eve when the whole family is there. It’s always matching PJs. It was cute when we were kids, but it’s hilarious now that we are all older.
2. It’s a tie between Frank Sinatra’s Have Yourself A Merry Christmas and Bing Crosby/David Bowie doing Little Drummer Boy.
3 and 4. My favorite children memory and best gift are tied together. I think I was sick one Christmas. My parents came in and woke me up to look out the window. It had snowed and I’m sure they had walked the dog thru the snow to make tracks, but they said they heard jingle bells. I totally believed!! The milk and cookies we gone. Then we looked under the tree and the stereo I desperately wanted was all set up ready to go. It was magical.

Jody Jamieson
1. Mistletoe hanging where I can kiss everyone!
2. All I want for Christmas. I can’t remember the artist.
3. Just waking up on Christmas Day and running out to the tree. I still believe in Santa!
4. My dad leased me a new Ford F-150 in my colors! That was pretty cool. (Thank you Elegant Killean).

Jimmy Takter
1. The midnight candle service on Christmas Eve at the Allentown Presbyterian Church
2. Silent Night at Midnight Service with the choir and the candles and everything.
3. In Sweden, there was a lot of snow. I remember I got a pair of cross-country skis one year and that winter we had about five days around Christmas when we didn’t have snow. I went crazy.
4. I’m not so much for getting gifts. I’m so blessed in so many different ways I’d rather give somebody something than get something.

Nancy Johansson
1. My favorite holiday tradition is when our family goes to the Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve at Allentown Presbyterian Church.
2. What Child Is This.
3. When I was about 10, home computers were getting popular. We only had a computer that my mom did bills on so all I really wanted for Christmas was a computer. Imagine my excitement when a big heavy box appeared under the tree with my name on it! Well on Christmas Eve (Swedish tradition is to open gifts on Christmas Eve) I finally got to open the box. Inside was a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica! The disappointment was real. Honestly, though, it was one of the best gifts ever as I used to read them at night to fall asleep. I learned a lot about a lot of things
4. Best gift ever: 20 per cent of Donatello Hanover as a yearling. No expenses and to be trained by Hall Of Famer Jimmy Takter. Two years later, I got a breeding to Trixton to be used on her which resulted in a filly named Given who will begin training in fall of 2017.

Tom Fanning
1. Buying a tree that’s too big for our house.
2. U2 — Please Come Home for Christmas
3. One Christmas, I thought I heard Santa, so I snuck downstairs and it was my dad putting Christmas presents under the tree! It broke my heart. I was 17 years old! No, I was like 7.
4. The best gift is watching my kids open up their presents every Christmas morning.

Sylvain Filion
1. Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends.
2. Have Yourself A Merry Christmas by Josh Groban.
3. Outdoor ice hockey.
4. Hockey skates.

Anthony MacDonald
1. Always Christmas. I like going to the mall close to Christmas. I usually avoid crowds, but Christmas is different, everyone’s happy.
2. Merry Christmas Baby — Bruce Springsteen.
3. Looking back, all of them mean a lot. For my parents to put on a Christmas for six kids knowing what I know now as a father, and how tough it must have been, really all of them were special.
4. It sure as hell was the knitted clothes from my grandparents!! LOL. Every dad will tell you the same… watching your kids open their gifts is the best gift.

Jay Wolf
1. I come from a large family so we have three Christmas celebrations in a 24-hour period. We host about 40 family members on Christmas Eve, have Christmas morning with my immediate family and Christmas afternoon in Dayton, OH (about an hour away) with the in-laws.
2. Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
3. We would get together with my dad’s side of the family every Christmas Eve. Our Uncle Ed would take all the nieces and nephews upstairs to look for Santa and sing carols.
4. A few years ago, my wife surprised me with tickets to see the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. It was their last tour after 45 years.

Bill O’Donnell
1. Watching The Polar Express and going to Christmas Eve Mass.
2. All I Want For Christmas is You — Mariah Carey
3. Getting together with family and having Christmas dinner.
4. A Christmas bonus from the Nihilator syndicate.

Ben Wallace
1. Turkey and all trimmings, plus day after leftover hot turkey sandwiches with family.
2. The Little Drummer Boy.
3. Far too many to list one.
4. Everything cherished from my family.

Dr. Ian Moore
1. Just spending Christmas morning with family.
2. Jingle Bell Rock.
3. I just remember family and friends and Christmas dinner and lots of presents. One of the presents I remember was Kenner Give-A-Show Projector. That was pretty cool. That was back in the Sixties. That wouldn’t be much of a toy for a kid today, but back then it was great.
4. As an adult, the love of family and friends. It’s a time to remember the year you had with everybody. Love and togetherness.