Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Family traditions: One family’s 46th Christmas Eve dinner at McDonald’s — and another’s first Christmas at home

John Buckland died in September 1991 at age 53, but that hasn’t stopped his daughters Sandy Turbeville, Susan Deeds and Sally Parker from returning to the McDonald’s at 1131 West Mercury Boulevard every year in his honor. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sandy Turbeville)
John Buckland died in September 1991 at age 53, but that hasn’t stopped his daughters Sandy Turbeville, Susan Deeds and Sally Parker from returning to the McDonald’s at 1131 West Mercury Boulevard every year in his honor. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sandy Turbeville)

On the night before Christmas, all will — not — be quiet at the McDonald’s restaurant on the corner of Coliseum Drive and Mercury Boulevard.

Instead, a group of more than two dozen family members will cluster in a corner of the restaurant eating Happy Meals and french fries and drinking fountain drinks.

It’s a 46-year tradition, and it’s all in memory of one father’s Christmas Eve tradition with his three daughters.

Twenty miles away, in the Grove area of James City County, a 16-month-old will learn about Christmas Eve traditions by reading Christmas books, helping his 25- and 27-year-old parents start new traditions in their own home.

Across the Peninsula, Virginians are gathering to celebrate the holidays, some practicing old traditions and others creating new ones.

McDonald’s for 46 years

John Buckland died in September 1991 at age 53, but that hasn’t stopped his daughters Sandy Turbeville, Susan Deeds and Sally Parker from returning to the McDonald’s at 1131 West Mercury Boulevard in Hampton every year in his honor.

The women live in Yorktown and Poquoson.

John Buckland died in September 1991 at age 53, but that hasn't stopped his three daughters from carrying on his Christmas Eve tradition. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sandy Turbeville)
John Buckland died in September 1991 at age 53, but that hasn’t stopped his three daughters from carrying on his Christmas Eve tradition. (WYDaily/Courtesy Sandy Turbeville)

Buckland was the “ultimate procrastinator,” finishing most of the Christmas shopping for the girls’ mother on Christmas Eve, said Deeds, 51.

Parker, 56, said the routine was the same every year: Shopping started at the now-closed Best Products store to buy a silver tray for their mother. Then, they went to the McDonald’s because it was the only one in the area with Christmas decorations.

The tradition began to grow as the years passed. Several cousins moved to the area and joined in on the annual trip. When Parker, Turbeville and Deeds grew older, their boyfriends also came along for the ride.

“That was before seatbelts,” Turbeville, 49, said. “We’d cram in the floorboards and go.”

What started with three sisters and their father has now grown to a gathering of more than two dozen people.

The McDonald’s no longer decorates for Christmas, but for Buckland’s family, that doesn’t matter.

The sisters also considered switching the restaurant a few years ago, but “we just couldn’t do it,” Deeds said.

“Everyone knows, 12, 12:30 we’re going to McDonald’s,” Turbeville said.

“The older we’ve gotten, it still means a lot to us because we started it,” Parker said. “Most of these kids don’t even know their grandfather, but they still come.”

Christmas in their own home

Katie Garcia and her husband, Daniel, have been shifting their Christmas activities to focus on their 16-month-old son, Felipe. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Katie Garcia and her husband, Daniel, have been shifting their Christmas activities to focus on their 16-month-old son, Felipe. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

For the Garcia family, the last few Christmases have been focused on building new family traditions and new experiences with their new baby.

Katie Garcia, 25, and her husband, Daniel, 27, have shifted their annual Christmas activities to focus on their 16-month-old son, Felipe.

“He’s more interested and aware of things this year,” Garcia said.

On Christmas Eve, Felipe will go to sleep in his own bed and wake up the next morning surrounded by family in his own house.

This is the first Christmas the Garcias will host at their home, because the young family wanted the holiday centered around their child, Garcia said. Some local members of the Garcia family will come to Christmas; the family is expecting to host about nine people.

For Christmas dinner, Garcia plans to cook prime rib, which has been a family tradition for about four years.

The Garcias have made community events a staple of their holiday season.

Their home is close to Busch Gardens, so the family has made a point to visit Christmas Town often this year with their season pass. The family also attended the Grand Illumination this year and the Williamsburg Christmas Parade, and plans to do so again in future years.

“It’s always so, I don’t want to say magical, but it’s really cool we’re from a town that has all the old traditions,” Garcia said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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