Back from Iraq, surviving pets, and a recovering daughter… What your neighbors are most grateful for this holiday season

With Christmas just around the corner, the holidays are often seen as a time for reflection. As the year comes to an end, many people begin to think about what they are most grateful for in their lives.

“I’m just thankful this year that I can celebrate with my daughter,” said 46-year-old Judy Prescott recently, heading from Jersey City to work in North Bergen, as she held back tears. “I almost lost her this year. She got sick and the doctors told her it was a back problem, but actually her kidneys went down. She was in the hospital for a month, but she’s doing better now.”

“I’m originally from England and I’m adopted, so I’m thankful that I have my husband’s family to celebrate with,” said 34-year-old Candice Betancourt from North Bergen as she rummaged for a turkey in the town’s ShopRite.

“I’m thankful for my health,” said 67-year-old Joe Rutigliano from Weehawken. “That’s always my concern, so I’m sensitive to it, aware of it, and I try to minimize health issues by working out.”

On the top of many lists was family and good health.

“I’m grateful for family and health because, without that, what else is there really?” said 31-year-old Lorenzo Papa from Hoboken, as he shopped for Christmas gifts in the North Bergen’s Toys R Us. “For the first time in years, we have a lot of kids running around the house, so it makes it more fun. I can shop for them.”

Home for the holidays

Alejandra Canal, a 21-year-old from Union City who immigrated from Mexico to the United States just 10 months ago, is thankful that she will be able to spend the holidays with her best friend.

“I’m from Mexico and it’s going to be my first Thanksgiving and Christmas here,” she said. “All my family is in Mexico, but my mom just came to visit me from there. We’re going to be together for the holidays, so I’m excited.”

Turkey for dinner, wedding cake for dessert

While some prepare for a traditional holiday with family, others have an extra reason to celebrate this season.

“I’m thankful that I’m getting married on Wednesday,” 47-year-old Kimberly Harris from Union City said last week. “I don’t even have a job right now, but life is good. We’re going to have a big celebration on Thanksgiving since we’re getting married the day before, and for Christmas we want to visit his family in Chile.”

She added, “Money, cell phones, cars. All those things are not important. Family and friends are. You just have to enjoy life.”

Kids grateful for family

Think children are only concerned about presents under the Christmas tree? Not so. Family togetherness appears to be a staple this year as children assume a more adult outlook on the holiday season.

“This year, I’m thankful for being here with my family because some people in the world don’t have their family,” said 12-year-old Trip Ritthaler of the Weehawken High School.

His schoolmate, 12-year-old Martin Estrella, added, “I really don’t mind getting material things for Christmas as long as I’m with my family.”

Pet appreciation

Pets also feel the love as individuals express appreciation for their four-legged friends.

“I’m thankful for my dog that survived after it was really sick,” said 35-year-old Trish Thomssen from Jersey City. “We bought a golden retriever from the mall and it was sick, but we didn’t know that. We took it to the hospital. Right now, it has an I.V. to get nutrition and it’s on an incubator to breath, but it’ll be ok.”

“I’m thankful for my dog,” said 21-year-old Jennifer Santiago from West New York. “She’s one of the most important things in my life right now. I treat her like a child. She’s my princess.”

Minds on Iraq

While many look forward to a joyful holiday season at home, others turn their minds to Iraq and the American troops serving overseas. For them, true thankfulness cannot be achieved without tranquility at home, as well as abroad.

“I would be thankful if we ended the war and brought home all the American soldiers from Iraq for Christmas, because they deserve that,” said 50-year-old John Firucane from Jersey City.

“I’m thankful for being alive and having a job, but I wish that the war in Iraq would end and the troops would come home,” said 63-year-old Barbara Hamel from Secaucus. “My nephew was over there twice, and he might have to go again. The main thing we need to have is peace.”

“She got sick and the doctors told her it was a back problem, but actually her kidneys went down.” – Judy


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