Warm memories and holiday traditions

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

by Dave Briggs

In an ongoing holiday tradition, Harness Racing Update again 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?

Check out the 2017 edition here.

Check out the 2016 edition here.

David Miller

1. Going to Christmas Eve service. It started when I was a kid with my mom and sister going back home and spending the rest the night with my family. Me and my wife still do it.
2. Mariah Carey’s song All I Want for Christmas is You.
3. When I was a young kid, I wanted a bike and I remember coming downstairs and it was beside the tree.
4. Just last year I had both of my daughters with me on Christmas Day for the first time in a long time.

Dave Brower

1. Heading over to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for a non-stop NBA fest on TV, followed by my Aunt’s incredible meal — usually a prime rib, or a smoked ham. Superb!
2. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by James Taylor
3. Getting a few “envelopes” with cash in them, because the Meadowlands used to always open up the night after Christmas!
4. A $100 Rawlings custom infielders baseball glove. That was a LOT of money back then, and I used that thing in little league and beyond for several years. A quality glove!

Rick Zeron

1. Being at the Lake House for Christmas with the family and grandchildren
2. Mariah Carey (All I Want For Christmas Is You)
3. Leaving home
4. My wife Joyce and 4 children, 3 grandkids

Heather Vitale

1. I host Christmas Eve at my house every year and it’s one of my favorite nights! I mean I really, really look forward to Christmas Eve! We keep it simple as far as making it fun and no stress. We bring in food from a caterer… no cooking, no cleanup. We don’t do a bunch of gift buying for the adults. Basically, the present giving is focused on the kids. We play games like a harness racing headbands game, King Stable Trivia and Beanboozled. Oh, and, of course, we always do a Facebook Live!
2. My Only Wish (This Year) – Britney Spears
3. My parents got divorced when I was like a year old so my entire childhood I had TWO full-blown Christmases — one in Jersey and the other in Florida. Santa always visited one of the homes on a night other than Christmas Eve and thankfully I was smart enough not to question it…. until I was in college.
4. I am really into practical gifts — I guess because I hate spending my own money on practical stuff for myself. So, probably a full-set of tires is one of my all-time fave Christmas gifts.

Bob McClure

1. Christmas dinner at our family farm.
2. You can’t go wrong with Jingle Bells, no matter who sings it.
3. My mom got me my first helmet. That was really special for me.
4. A family friend gave our family an identical suit to mine for what was my baby Ryder. He outgrew it fast, but it was a lot of fun for a few months!

Casie Coleman

1. Christmas Day waking up to opening stockings, then a great breakfast and always a good day of eating and drinking all your favorite things with friends and family.
2. I can’t really think of a Christmas song off hand. Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, I guess.
3. When I was little, we would go to Oregon to see my grandma and grandpa for Christmas sometimes. That was always a lot of fun.
4. I’ve been given lots of great things. It’s hard to pick one I’d say when my staff made me personalized poker chips with Chancey Lady on them in blue and gold with a picture of her winning the Fan Hanover. That was pretty cool.

Art Zubrod

1. Christmas Eve at my sister’s house. We celebrate with friends from 30+ years ago, now our grandkids are friends.
2. Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire – Nat King Cole
3. A real White Christmas
4. Watching the excitement in my grandkids.

Jason Portuondo

1. My favorite holiday tradition has become secret Santa with the fam. Every year we pick a different theme, which keeps it fresh.
2. That’s tough; probably a dead heat between Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song and Brenda Lee’s Rockin Around The Christmas Tree.
3. Favorite childhood holiday memory was having a Christmas Eve sleepover with my cousins. Six of us slept in the same room and we kept peeking out the window watching for Santa.
4. The best Christmas gift… at least as a kid was an Atari video game system which included PacMan and Space Invaders.

Adriano Sorella

1. For the last few years it’s been “vacation”. We have gone away somewhere warm for the last several years. This year will be no different.
2. “Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas.” This always gets to me each year.
3. The really big parties. Italian household, with all our families gathered. It didn’t matter that we all lived in tiny homes, we crammed in everyone. Tons of food. My mom and aunts would make cookies for a month leading up to it. I truly miss this part of my life.
4. This is tough. I have received several nice gifts. However, when I was much younger (maybe about 8-9 years old) I wanted this Tonka toy garage set. It looked like a parking garage with a ramp going in and out. My parent being of Italian decent didn’t really believe in these types of toys or expenses. I mean it was expensive back then. My brother Tony took my parents to buy it for me. I was pretty shocked when I opened it, and it left me with this memory 38 years later.

Lee Drake:

1. Having family and friends at our home following Christmas Eve church service. There is so much food, fun and cheer! The kids are so excited too.
2. New Kid in Town by George Strait
3. I have a twin brother. We came downstairs and there were two of the big toy ski-doos in the living room. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
4. First Christmas cards from our kids. I keep them all.

Joe Holloway

1. My favorite part of the holidays is Christmas Eve, we have a big family gathering, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters etc. It’s just great to see everyone and spend some time and catch up.
2. Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms
3. Going out to get my parents a present on Christmas Eve when I was 6, with my brother and 2 sisters. It was snowing and we got stuck and had to walk home, the drifts seemed so big. We don’t usually get White Christmases in the Delaware area.
4. Best gift was when my sons gave me tickets to Yankees in spring training, we went down and spent a couple of days in Tampa. Great time of year to get away before the season begins.

Bill McLinchey

1. Getting together with family and friends and eating too much turkey.
2. Let it be Christmas by Alan Jackson
3. Being so excited for Santa to come
4. Toss up between Castle Grayskull or Nintendo.

Paul MacDonell

1. Picking out a Christmas tree with my daughters
2. Let it be Christmas by Alan Jackson
3. Driving to Nova Scotia to surprise my grandparents at Christmas.
4. A brand new pair of skates when I was about 5 years old.

Joe Faraldo

1. My favorite is making an extra donation to St. Jude’s by using their Christmas and Hanukkah cards. It makes the recipient feel good and it does good.
2. Feliz Navidad by the Mavericks.
3. Seeing my father come home from working in our scrap metal yard but with enough energy left to put a 12’ by 8’ plywood board atop two wooden horses upon which he then set up a Lionel train set for me, I still cherish it.
4. Either a new Chrysler 300 upon graduation or a $39 horse I owned driven by my good friend Mike Lachance

George Brennan

1. Going to dinner with my father Joe and his wife Michele on the 23rd.
2. Either Chuck Berry or Dwight Yoakam’s version of Run Run Rudolph.
3. Going shopping one late Christmas Eve at a store in Monticello named Jamesway with my father Joe. He needed to get my mother a gift. I was only seven at the time but it was a hilarious hour or so.
4. Growing up in Monticello, American Darts were, and still are, very popular. I was around 14 and got my first dartboard.

Marcus Melander

1. It’s a Swedish tradition to always watch “ Kalle Ankas jul” on TV every Christmas at 3 pm
2. All I Want for Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey)
3. That I always had my family around me.
4. Me and my brother and sister got a couple of ponies one year, that we were able to race with the following year.