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The Willden children find a tree to fill, or more than fill, their living room during a past holiday season. Next to the tree are Gavin (left) and Jon. In front are Lilly (left), Naomi and Josie (right). The family has a tradition of going to the mountains after Thanksgiving to choose a tree.


A ‘pretty basic’ Christmas celebration


By Ben Lasseter

Staff writer



MAYFIELD—Stephanie Willden says she considers her family’s Christmas traditions to be “pretty basic,” but in the best way.

The family of seven consists of Stephanie, her husband Garrick, and children Naomi, 18; Josie and Jon, both 16; Lilly, 13; and Gavin, 11.

The Willdens follows a routine that takes them to Salt Lake City on Christmas Eve, where they see city Christmas lights and get together with Stephanie’s mother, grandmother and extended family.

They return to Mayfield to spend Christmas Day at their home at the foot of the mountains. “It’s all about spending time with family,” said Garrick, a lifelong Mayfield resident.

On or close to the big day, they see Garrick’s brother, G.J., and his family, as well as Garrick’s parents Suzette Bown and Doug Willden. Both of the two families also live in Mayfield.

Yes, the season is mainly about family. But considering the reputation of Garrick’s holiday wassail, the season is about a little more than immediate family, Stephanie says.

The Willden family. Back, L-R: Stephanie, Garrick, Jon and Naomi. Front, L-R: Lilly, Josie and Gavin.

“Anytime we go anywhere, he gets asked to make the wassail.”

The Willden children say wassail and the holidays go hand-in-hand. Even the early November snow this year prompted them to ask for it, their mother says.

The cidery hot beverage represents more than its cinnamon taste and the warmth people feel as they drink it fresh after brewing. It is a recipe that Garrick’s maternal grandmother, Barbara Bown, passed down to him, G.J., and his younger sister Felicia.

Stephanie’s and Garrick’s family traditions actually begin well before Christmas. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they participate in the annual Santa Fun Run in Gunnison. After they run, they go into the mountains and cut down a tree.

“My husband gets ginormous trees that never fit anywhere,” Stephanie joked.

The Willdens enjoy going to lots of Christmas parties although some of those may be cancelled this year because of the coronavirus.

On Christmas Eve at Stephanie’s mother’s or grandmother’s house in Salt Lake City, aunts, uncles and cousins read scripture, have a gift exchange and do a nativity scene. And they often go out into the city to eat or see a movie together.

Other than the meal out, food on Christmas Eve is an “all day lunch that never ends,” Stephanie says It is served buffet-style and “thousands of chocolates” made by Stephanie’s mother, Kristine Kimball.

Back in Mayfield for Christmas Day, the Willdens start with the children finding gifts from Santa Claus. Then, they eat a “big breakfast” that typically includes cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole.

After breakfast, the family opens wrapped gifts.

“So Christmas lasts until around noon at our house,” Stephanie says.

The Willdens spends the rest of the children’s break from school playing new board games they may have received as gifts, sledding and drinking more wassail.

Stephanie says she has a “fun bunch of kids.”

With them, “basic” traditions are all it takes to have a happy holiday.




Barbara Bown’s Wassail Recipe


2 quarts apple juice

1 can (12 fluid ounces) frozen orange juice

Half can (6 fluid ounces) of frozen lime juice

Combine the apple juice, frozen orange juice and frozen lime juice together.

Stir together.



½ quart water

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground allspice


Boil water

Add sugar to boiling water

Add herbs/spices to boiling mix

Continue to boil for 10-15 minutes


Let mix cool and strain through cheese cloth or fine screen.

Add mix to juice.

Dilute to taste.

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A key ingredient in Sanders family gatherings has to be fun, as reflected by this sign on a Thanksgiving dinner table.

Sanders family makes sure their traditions blend with fun


By Anita Lyons

Staff writer



GUNNISON—”It can be said that Suzanne and I were brought together at Christmastime by her Dad’s love of shopping,” says Jim Sanders of Gunnison, who is now president of the Gunnison Telephone Co.

His father-in-law, Roger Anderson, loved the newest kitchen aids, such as hot dog cookers and bread making machines.“He was the consummate shopper, especially at Christmastime,” Jim says.

When asked to list Sanders family traditions, Jim responded with memories of his in-laws first. Jim and Suzanne both grew up in Gunnison and knew each others’ families. He loved how his father-in-law made Christmas special.

For instance, the family would open all the presents, then Roger would say, “Oh, there’s one more in the garage” and would bring in the latest gadget. His mother-in-law, Gladys Anderson, was known for making homemade chocolates.

“It was melt-in-your- mouth, creamy, milk-chocolate-covered yummy stuff,” Jim says. Two of his favorites were cherry chocolates and Forsey bars (creme filled chocolates). He loved the job of helping with the cherries.

“Gladys had arthritis and couldn’t mold the fondant,” he recalls. Helping “was a means to the wonderful end.” He also remembers covering peanuts and raisins with melted chocolate.

“My diabetes can be traced to that candy, and it’s probably worth it,” he jokes.

As the Sanders children began to grow up and marry, the family started a tradition of renting a van and traveling to Las Vegas for a dinner and a show.

“No grandkids. Just the kids and spouses,” Jim says. They love to eat at Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que in Green Valley, Nev. before the show. And their favorite shows have been the various Cirque du Soleil productions.

“But really the most fun is the trip home afterwards when everyone tells stories of previous trips,” Jim says. “I have had to pull over a couple of times because we were laughing so hard.”
In the past few years, the family has added a pheasant hunt tradition.

“Pheasant hunting has been a big deal in my family since I was a kid,” Jim says. A day or two before Thanksgiving or Christmas, they purchase the right to hunt pheasants from Jay Bartholomew. He releases them on his farm in Fayette, where he has a private hunting license.

It takes the Sanders family (mostly the boys) only a few hours to harvest most of the birds and clean them. Suzanne explains, “Jim has perfected his cleaning method, no plucking involved, and we just save the breast meat.” The pheasants are a little smaller than chickens.

Suzanne soaks the meat in a water/salt solution, then cuts it into bite sized pieces. She makes a marinade by adding corn starch to soy sauce until it’s just runny enough to cover the meat. She leaves the meat in the marinade in the refrigerator until she’s ready to cook.

She starts by cooking meat in the wok, then sets it aside and cooks stir-fry vegetables. She adds the meat back in and warms it through. Then she serves it over rice.

Jim says since their son, Max, returned from his mission to the Philippines, he won’t eat minute rice. So he’s in charge of cooking his favorite Jasmine (sticky) rice for the meal.

“Over the years, even the girls who made faces at the meat source have learned to love it,” he says.

“Hopefully, we can keep this going through the coronavirus stuff and add other traditions that remind us each year of our blessings and the real reason for the season,” he says.


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