The Givernaud Cottage playroom electronically decorated for Christmas

A Collection of Christmas Memories

Story Index
THE HOLLY LEAF PIN - Cathy McFarlane

What Ever Happened to the Christmas Giraffe - And Other Short Stories

Taken from excerpts on Village Memories

Anyone remember going to Christmas at the gymnasium? Santa would call you up to the stage for your present. I remember how disappointed I was that this present wasn't mine because my name was not on it. Just had "girl 8yrs old." -Linda

Yes, I remember Christmas in gym. I remember Santa came in a helcopter. I remember getting a suitcase. I don't remember getting anything else. I loved to memories of Christmas at the Village. -Barbara Geiry

Yes, I remember this too. I remember it was a full house of people sitting in chairs. Divided in the center with an aisle to walk down. One year I remember very clearly there were a lot of wrapped presents on the stage. Also there was a large blow-up giraffe. Santa had two female helpers who would get the presents for the kids as they sat in Santa's lap. I watched as the children went up one at a time and I hoped they would not be given the blow-up giraffe as I wanted it. It seemed an eternity till finally it was my turn to go up to see Santa.

I walked up the stairs to the stage and Santa began to speak to me. One of the helpers went to get a present for me but she brought back a wrapped box. So I told Santa that I wanted the blow-up giraffe and pointed to it. He told the girl and she returned the box and brought me the giraffe. I was so happy as I walked away with this giraffe which was about four feet tall it seemed. Down I went in front of the big crowd with my giraffe.

The nuns put it in the play room with all the other toys. When we went in there, everyday I saw it getting smaller and limp. I did not realize you could blow it back up. I felt sad that it was shrinking. -Richard Val

I would like to recognize the special group, the Women's Guild, who annually gave the much needed clothes as Christmas gifts at the Village. I remember many of us one year got nice winter jackets. They also arranged to have the half dozen barbers show up on evenings to cut everyone's hair in the Village barbershop.

I remember attending Christmas parties outside of the village put on by well intended groups. Here we typically would receive some toy gift. A week or two after the party, none of those gifts would be around by the kids. You couldn't keep personal property, everything was unofficially communal property. -Bill Hamilton

Two things stick in my mind to this day after all these years. One. In 1950 when just before I left the Barbara Givernaud Orphanage [Which later became part of the Village when it opened.] there was a party given and I received a wrist watch. That watch was a Porky Pig. Sister Ellen Patricia met me at the steps of St. Joe's for Boy's in Englewood Cliffs. I distinctly remember her taking it with the "assurance" I would get it back. Never happened. Secondly, in 1956, at the Ladie's Guild Christmas party, four of us boys received Red Flyer wagons. That same day we went to a party off campus. When we got back, ALL the wagons were confiscated. Never saw them again. Have a very merry Christmas. -Joe Kenny

The Woman's Guild requested from us boy's a short list of three items for Santa to bring to the party in the Saint Michale's auditorium. [When in Englewood Cliffs facility before the Village opened.] In most cases our request was fulfilled. However, it occurred to me and the others that everything given to us within a day or two vanished. One day I saw a nun going into a locked room deep in the building [Englewood Cliffs] to withdraw some toys. From that day onward I was hip to the system. The same situation occurred at the Village around 1958. Every time we went to a outside party — and there were many — any gifts distributed while in the Village vanished by the time we returned. I was the first graduating class in 1958. To this day I remember the day I left the Village for good, Sister Jarleth — then the house mother — telling me to go into a locked closet and pick out a pair of pants and a shirt to wear to go to my sponsor. It looked like a laundry room. Everything was on the floor. Not one stitch of clothing received on Christmas was in view. I left the Village in almost rags. -Joe Kenny

I told my sponsor, Gil McDougald of the New York Yankees, about the confiscation of the new clothes and toys. But who believes children? In the early 1980's, during one of our visits, he apologized for not believing me in the 1960's. He told me how they had to take truckloads of new childrens goods when the Village was closed down. The Yankees did much for the orphans and this behavior of the nuns came as a shock to them. -Mary Ann Hickey

It is so sad to see how the little joy we were given in the form of gifts that were then taken from us. One year when the Yankees arranged a gallant dinner and Santa in New York for the orphans. I received a life size Raggedy Anne Doll. I held onto her all the way back to SJV. They ripped it from my arms and I have always wanted one since. I should buy myself one someday.

Joe, did you ever get a red wagon after you left there? If you had children, did you buy them one? My daughter got her red wagon when she was two years old and when she was five years old, she packed her doll, some pennies, and cookies into the wagon and planned to hop the bus to Welland, Ontario. Have a Merry Christmas! -Mary Ann

The Holly Leaf Pin

by Cathy McFarlane

Many of you probably remember Christmas at the Village. I have good memories of those times. Santa would come to the gym stage and hand out presents to all the kids. We had cookies and goodie to eat, as we sang Christmas carols.

I recall asking Santa for a suit case and to my surprise, I got one. I guess I wanted to go on a trip (or go home to a real home). The present came with a small holly leaf pin on top of it. To this day, each year at Christmas since 1962, I wear that pin. It's just junk plastic jewelry, but it is precious.  I also recall going to a foster families home for Christmas one year. I was given a gray and pink poodle skirt with a pink top. I thought that was the best. I remember their beautiful Christmas tree and the time I spent with that family.

Christmas is a time for giving. As a kid, it amazed me that complete strangers would take kids into their homes and make happy memories for them. It still puts a smile on my face. 

I hope you all have a nice Christmas and a Happy New Year!

My Special Christmas Memory

by Nancy Vallellanes

Chapel of St. Joseph's VillageBack in the early 1960s I was one of 200 dependent children temporarily residing at St. Joseph's Village. This was an institution desiged for practical purposes but also designed to help the children feel as if they were in a home-like atmosphere.

We had many wonderful benefactors who tried to insure that we would not feel deprived especially during the holidays. One year at Christmas I had asked for ice skates. The Ladies of the Guild would obtain lists of special requests for the children to be presented to "Santa." I was thrilled and squealed with delight when my turn came to open my gift and there were the bright, shiny new white and silver ice skates.

At the end of the party which was held in the auditorium, I was asked to get up on the stage and to sing "O Holy Night...the stars were brightly shining. It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining 'til He appeared and the soul felt its worth...Truly He taught us to love one another. His Law is love and His Gospel is Peace." I sing this hymn every year and it proclaims the message clearly for all. Jesus came for everyone. Would that this world not miss this beautiful God-given gift.

After the party was over, I asked Sister if I could go to the Chapel to pray by the Creche which seemed life-sized to me as a youngster. The main chapel lights were out except for the small lights within the Creche. I gazed at the scenery and was lost in the beautiful Christ Child and His mother and felt part of the miracle of His Coming to me personally. I knelt at that altar rail for quite some time and was thanking God for everything that had occurred that evening. I "felt hugged" and although no one was physically present there, I knew that "hug" came from God. I was a very lonely child and there in the midst of that loneliness was a "hug" from God letting me know I was His Special Child.

It has taken me many years to realize the meaning of that special Christmas memory. God is still with me through all of my joys and sorrows and that miracle of Christmas is the most beautiful gift I've ever received. That is why to this day, I make it a part of my ritual each Christmas Eve to sit before the Creche and gaze into the manger scene to be with the Holy Family — my spiritual family. This is most comforting.

Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year — God bless us Everyone.

Santa Brought Joy to St. Joseph's Village

by Jim Brown

The Village had no chimneys, except for the one serving the boiler room in the maintenance building. So how did Santa get to each cottage. Perhaps Santa came in many other ways to make life at the Village a little more homelike, joyous, and blessed. Perhaps Santa used the long corridor roof as a 7/8-of-a-mile landing strip. After all, many of the children had no family of their own to share the holidays. Some were fortunate enough to have a sponsor to take them into their home. And some had to stay behind to spend Christmas at the Village where the staff became "Santa" and did their best to make the Village as much like home as they could.

While there are children who do not share happy memories of Christmas at the Village, I remember here the ways that "Santa" brought some joy as well as some disappointments to the home for dependent children.

Santa came to take us to parties, shows, and more parties. The year I arrived in 1964, the whole month of December was spent going to party after party, show after show, getting gifts from Santa after Santa.

A typical day might start out with a lunch and ice cream party with Santa Clause at an Elks Club lodge. Then it was off to a Kawinis Club for more lunch, ice cream, and more verses of "Jingle Bells." Then back to the Village to freshen up before the evening amateur Christmas "pageant" performed by yet another philanthropic organization. When a party was offered during school hours, were taken out of class and loaded onto a bus furnished by the party's sponsor. Sometimes Mr. Lampert drove us in the yellow Village school bus.

Now don't show that you are tired, or ready to puke from all the sweets and heavy holiday food, and most importantly, don't say a word to anyone at the next party about any other party. Instead, act wide awake and look adorable, be hungry for these food gifts we are about to receive. And lastly, remember, we are orphans and each party is the single highlight of our Christmas and we are to be very, very grateful. Like in "Oliver!" There was a reason behind the plan. These caring organizations were simultaneously making generous financial donations to St. Joseph's Village.

An alumnist recalls that we rarely ever got to keep gifts that we were given at these events — unless it was clothes that fit. Another alumnist, Mary, remembers that the intermediate girls had their hair done up, got dressed up in frilly fancy dresses and taken to New York to an event where the Marines gave them gifts. Mary believes that they were chosen to go because they were at a the right age and when all dolled up, they would look like adorable orphans that would entice the Marines to make generous financial donation. Upon returning on the bus they were told to leave the toys and they would get them the next day. The next day came and there were no toys.

While many alumni today felt that they were used, we must keep in mind that the Village needed money to operate and donors wanted to meet the children their money was supporting and to hear them sing. Yet that is no justification for depriving the children of the toys.

Not all of the parties were of the childish Santa Clause nature. Not all of the parties were accompanied by sad stories like the ones I previously described. Each year, we spent the batter part of a day as guests of the Sears employees at their warehouse cafeteria in Seacacus for dinner, presents, and some entertainment. One year, the senior boys were treated to an evening of grand luxury at the posh clubhouse of the Advertising Club in Manhattan. This was no children's party! We entered through an opulent lobby and then went up a grand staircase to sit intermingled with Madison Avenue Advertising executives for a seven course sit down dinner and some "intelligent" adult conversation. A sports personality was the guest speaker. Another class act was the visit to the Englewood Bell Telephone Exchange for dinner, entertainment, and a tour of the exchange. I loved that! There were several other places we went but we went to so many that some have faded away from my memory over the years.

The party going routine was an annual tradition for many years before my arrival. But, something must have happened to change things in my second year. In 1965 we went to far less parties yet the sisters somehow managed to keep the more generous ones on the itinerary that had better quality of food and entertainment — and likely financial contributions.

Many of the kids, particularly the seniors, were not warming up to these outings. Some felt "used." I must confess, despite my humorously sarcastic tone of writing, that I never felt used and I enjoy the adventure of going to one event after the other. After all, it time out of the Village, and some days, getting out of going to school. I always enjoyed being taken places. For that I was appreciative of what the sisters made available to us — even if they got some needed funding in the process. In the outside world, my father always took my sister and I many places when I was home. It was always a treat to be taken out. Out to dinner, to the mall, to my father's workplace for the Christmas office party, to the city attractions, and to Radio City Music Hall.

And speaking of the Music Hall, I seem to remember a group of us from the Village going to Radio City for the Christmas show. With my father, we sat up close, but it must have been with the Village that we sat in the far side of an upper balcony and saw the Rockettes a city block away. My sister, Mary Brown remembers that a group of children from the Village were invited to come up on stage during the intermission between the stage show and the movie to sing a few Christmas songs.

Santa brought us gifts through the hands of generous individuals and organizations. Many donors brought to the Village piles of toys that they collected for needy Children. They ended up in a large wooden box in the first garage bay of the maintenance building. Some kids would sneak back there to rummage through and see what they could find without getting caught. When the box got too full, the load would be transferred to the dumpster. I was told by an alumnist that at times they would sell the toys. A former staffer recently told me that they would ask the donors to give money instead, as money was in greater need to keep the Village running. But donors insisted that they wanted to bring Christmas joy to the orphans by giving toys. If only they knew that the toys rarely made it to the cottages. One source just told me she refuses to this day to participate in toy drives due to her memory of this "toy box."

One Christmas, a donor who owned a beauty parlor wanted to give a more useful gift and bought black knitted sweaters of itchy polyester for all the senior boys.

I remember one year when Mr. Lampert took the senior boys in the school bus to Palisade Avenue in Englewood, NJ to do some Christmas shopping. Our five or ten dollars did not go far even in 1964, but it was a thrill to leave the Village and be free for a few hours to break out into smaller groups and walk the avenue while taking in all the lights and window displays.

Santa got us to help him in his workshop. I remember Mr. Lampert had the senior boys build mangers that were sold to the public to help raise money for the Village. My father bought one when he came up to take my sister and I home for Christmas week. I used it as the centerpiece for that year's display under the tree at home. The wooden mangers were painted brown, covered with Elmer's glue and then flocked with sawdust to create a earthy texture.

And speaking of raising money. Sidewalk Santas were not the only ones with tin cups. Some children were taken by the sisters to shopping areas and large companies with hundreds of employees leaving for the day to pose as "needy orphans" while people dropped donations in the sister's black bag. I never went on such a trip — guess I was not the "adorable orphan" type. But I heard that many felt pathetic playing the role.

My sister Mary told me recently that a nun took her on the rounds secretly took some of the money and splurged at Friendly's for dinner and Ice Cream! A little pay for an afternoon of "acting."

On another occasion, Mary went "begging" with Sr. Thomasina in front of Woolworth's in her hometown of Bergenfield. Upon telling the sister that people might recognize her, Sr. Thomasina gathered up the folding chairs and abandoned their afternoon of solicitation. The sister used her own money to make up for the donations they failed to collect just to save Mary of embarrassment. For that and the many other kind things Sr. Thomasina did, Mary remains very grateful to Sr. Thomasina.

How could I say that Santa Clause came to the Village to bring all of happier things that I just described where we all know there is no Santa Clause? Well there is a real Santa Clause. He is the Christmas tradition of the spirit of Christmas that we come to know as "Santa Clause." He is alive in the hearts, imaginations, and the giving that we share with each other at this time of year. Sounds a bit like words from a newspaper article an editor once wrote when a little girl asked him if there is really is a Santa Clause.

This story is composed of the author's memories and those to whom he has spoken. However in the relatively short life of the Village, there must have been hundreds of Christmas stories. We will add them to this page as they are made available to the Web site's publisher.

Couldn't Wait for Christmas at SJV

by Cathy McFarlane

I couldn't wait for Christmas at SJV. There were so many sad Christmas times with my mother. No tree — no presents — nothing to eat — no relatives visiting — and no heat in the house. So the Village was like a big warm Christmas present to me. I loved every moment which was filled with laughter, music, plays, mass, singing in the choir, Santa Claus, many presents, cookies, and wonderful things to eat, and people who cared. Strangers would show up and provide a good time for all to enjoy.

I loved our trip to New York City. We walked up and down 5th avenue. Macy's windows were filled with excitement, colorful puppets, trains, and lots of music in the street. We'd walk through Saint Patrick's Cathedral, explore all the stores, and eat at a cafeteria where we selected items from machines [the Automat]. This was my first time on a subway, and my first time going to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas show and the ice skaters at Rockafella Center. Everything was so beautiful!

Santa Claus would show up at the SJV gym. We would all get in line and go up on the stage to get a gift. I thought how odd it was that strangers from somewhere would donate gifts to us. We would make out a list in advance, and I was amazed that I actually received something from my list — a suitcase (I guess I wanted to go on a trip). I kept it for many years, until it fell apart. My present had a holly tree leaf pin attached to the bow. To this very day, I have worn that pin during the Christmas season — every year for 42 years. I wish I could tell the person who gave it to me how much this meant to me. I am sure it was a person with a big heart. I remember wanting to grow up and give to people just like those who gave to me.

One year I went home with a foster family. My mother had a real large family, yet not one of them signed up to take me home for Christmas. So, off to the foster family I went! It was great. They had a beautiful house with a big Christmas tree and lots of family visiting all night long. They gave me clothes as a present. They were a pink blouse and a grey and pink poodle skirt. That was so popular in 1962. I thought I was just the best-dressed kid in town. But I didn't get to spend Christmas with my sisters. I guess we all went to a different family. So sometimes the holiday season was both happy and sad. I remember I felt so lonely and I knew "I was an orphan." But at least there were people in the world that cared. I had lots of great holidays at SJV.

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas Gift Money Was Not For Larry to Keep

by Larry Rivera

I remember getting on the school bus on Christmas. Well sometime close to Christmas and driving to the Sear's Warehouse. That turned out to be in North Bergen. One the way there a man would work his way through the bus asking us our ages. This was so that once we got there we would receive clothing as a gift. Now we all know that we would rather have toys, Clothing sucked big time but we took it anyway and made sure we always said thank you.

Once we got there we got in line in their cafeteria and got fed. Not to long after that, Santa would show up and hand out the presents. The clothes of course. This one year there was a couple of younger women working there at the Sear's warehouse and they had this great idea to bring a few of us kids around the place with donation boxes. We thought, "wow this is great people giving us money just for sticking a box in front of them." This was better then getting clothes. I remember my box being so full it all most burst. We were so happy when we got back to the party and showed the nuns what the people had given us. But this turned out to be a BIG mistake. I remember being told we should be ashamed of our selves for asking people for money. We got puzzled as we don't remember asking the people to give us the money. Just happy that they did.

When we got back to the Village, I remember a nun taken the money and putting it in the refrigerator. I remember it was in there for about a week. I would check it out when ever I got a chance. Then it was gone! I asked what had happen to my money? I was told it wasn't my money that people gave it to us to give to the Village. I guess I was upset about it being taken away from me. But got over it real fast and knew next year when we got on that big yellow school bus to Sear's I wasn't going to "beg" for any more money because it would only be taken away from me.


If you have a Christmas time memory of St. Joseph's Village, won't you please share it with us here. There were many trips to parties hosted by donors, Christmas concerts where the children sang, decorations in the cottages. Post your memories on "Village Memories" on Facebook. That way everyone in the discussion group can see your post and respond. Then we will copy your message to this page to be a permanent record of Christmas memories at the Village. If you are not yet a member of the discussion group it is easy to sign up. Just click on the join group link. If you prefer to send your memories story directly, mail to: jimbrown@optisonics.com