Vineyarders remember holidays past

Mary Drouin, surrounded by Ciggy Piava, Francis Coutinho and John Coutinho. Portuguese traditions at Christmas included lots of music and dancing. — Photo courtesy of The family of Mary Drouin

Excerpted from “Vineyard Voices,” and “More Vineyard Voices,” published by the Oral History Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Islanders remember celebrations of Christmas over the years. Interviews by Linsey Lee.

Helen Issokson’s husband Bernie, a leader of the Hebrew Center, played Santa at Brickman’s. “He didn’t need any stuffing. They’d put the make-up on him and they’d have him at the back of the store where the shoe department is, sitting in a sleigh.”

-Helen Issokson, b. 1925, homemaker, secretary, Chilmark. Interviewed 2000.

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Mary Drouin remembers Portuguese holiday traditions, which usually involved music.

“Christmas Eve, we stayed out late, because that was the day for caroling. My uncle, John Coutinho, played the violin, and Lester Perry, from Oak Bluffs, played the guitar, and my father used to be the lead singer.”

-Mary Drouin, b. 1922, died 2006; cook, homemaker, Oak Bluffs. Interviewed 2002.

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Betty Alley also reminisced about Portuguese Christmas traditions, including the “chamarita.” “That was a beautiful dance.there was a lady down the end of our street…she was one of the best dancers. Little old lady, too.”

Betty Alley, b.1912, died 2009; homemaker, clerk, Oak Bluffs. Interviewed, 1995.

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Alice Coutinho remembered Christmas as the biggest Portuguese holiday. “We had beautiful figurines brought from the old country…statues, you know…and embroidered skirts around the altar.”

Alice Coutinho, b. 1914, died 2007; homemaker, bookkeeper, piano teacher, Oak Bluffs. Interviewed, 1997.

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Ted Meinelt remembers coming home during World War II.

“It was the night before Christmas and so we spent Christmas on a train and we had bologna sandwiches and cold cuts.”

-Ted Meinelt (b. 1916); teacher and art collector, Chilmark. Interviewed in 2001.

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Seamond Ponsart Roberts’s father, Octave Ponsart, was the lighthouse keeper at West Chop and Cuttyhunk. She tells the story of her Christmases in the 1940’s and 50’s when maritime historian Edward Rose Snow was the “Flying Santa” for children of the lighthouse keepers on the Massachusetts coast.

“He got a helicopter and he landed up at Gay Head…Of course, he came not just for me, but I felt like it was just for me. ”

-Seamond Ponsart Roberts, b. 1940; Coastguard Yeomon, writer; Tisbury. Interviewed 1999.

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