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Christmas traditions with Long Island families

The Castillo family of Seaford makes cookies from

The Castillo family of Seaford makes cookies from scratch in their kitchen every Christmas Eve. Photo Credit: Ruth Castillo

Christmas is all about traditions, but that doesn't mean they have to be boring. Here are some Long Island families whose holiday rituals are out of the ordinary:

KFC GRAB BAG

When the Koegler family of Amityville grew in size, to about 30, things started getting expensive. The gift giving was relegated to a collective grab bag, known as KFC -- Koegler Family Christmas -- containing quality gifts like a Big Bertha golf club to gag gifts like a box of smelly cheese. "This is the best part of Christmas," says Charlie Koegler, 58. "Our sides ache by the end of the night."

FAKE CHRISTMAS

When Margaret Marchand, 44, of Bayville got married in 1995, her mother, Fran Saltarelli of Woodbury, felt Christmas morning was not the same at her house.

"My mother couldn't let go," Marchand says. "She wanted everybody together."

A new tradition was born called Fake Christmas. The weekend before Christmas, Saltarelli has her three daughters come over early and re-create Christmas morning. Now that grandchildren have entered the mix, the tradition has only grown bigger.

"My kids couldn't think of the holidays without it," says Marchand. "To them it's part of Christmas."

NIGHTTIME RITUAL

After dinner and before dessert on Christmas Eve, Adrienne Bryant, 49, of Northport hosts a series of yuletide activities. There's a gingerbread house decorating contest. Reindeer food is spread across the lawn. Guests who sleep over get a set of Christmas pajamas, which they put on before listening to her husband Kevin's theatrical reading of "The Night Before Christmas." Each person gets a pink bag of sugar plums before bed so they can have "sweet Christmas dreams."

Says Bryant, "We like to keep everybody entertained."

VISIT FROM SANTA

Dominick Giordano, 61, of New Hyde Park has hosted Christmas Eve for the past 38 years. Part of the festivities is a visit from St. Nick, played by Giordano, who descends from the attic and distributes presents.

"I used to tell them I was going out for bread," he says. "I'd come back and say, 'The store was crowded,' and bring in a loaf."

BREAKFAST BREAK

In pursuit of a little peace in the whirlwind of the season, Suzanne Simone, 66, of Holbrook and her sister-in-law Carol Simone Reidy started their own tradition more than 20 years ago of going out for breakfast on Christmas Eve morning -- just the two of them.

"We did it to escape all the stuff we had to do," says Simone.

But once family members caught wind of it, they wanted in on the action. Each year the breakfast crew grew, until it got too expensive and was moved to Simone's house. "It's a nice start to the holiday," she says. "Everyone looks forward to it."

COOKIE FACTORY

Every Christmas Eve day, the Castillo family of Seaford gathers in the kitchen to make cookies from scratch.

"This is the only time of year we get together to do this kind of thing," says Dan Castillo, 21. "It's something I look forward to whenever I come home for school break." They make four different types: oatmeal Rice Krispie crunch, chocolate chip, walnut chocolate chip and -- this year's addition -- butterscotch.

SCRATCH-OFF ADVENT CALENDAR

Jeanna Ranieri, 46, of Glen Cove has a twist on the traditional Advent calendar filled with candy for her kids, Anthony, 14, and Rachel, 15. In an effort to be healthier, she changed out the candy for scratch-off lottery tickets.

"Every morning before school they come running down the stairs to do the scratch-offs," says Ranieri. "They love the chance of winning money."

The siblings used to split the winnings (the most was about $30), but now that they are older, things have changed. "It's become a contest," says Ranieri. "They get quite competitive."

12 GLASSES OF CHRISTMAS

When you take a seat at Christmas Eve dinner in the Carbuto home in Glen Cove, be prepared to start singing. Each table setting comes equipped with a glass containing a lyric from "The 12 Days of Christmas," which is your part in the song.

"It's not taken seriously at all," says Nick Carbuto, 58. "We bust each other's chops. It's just who we are."

The "Five Golden Rings" part is saved for Carbuto's sister-in-law, Terry Carbuto, who sonically evokes Edith Bunker. The 22-year-old tradition even has family members Skyping in from California to participate.

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