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Strengthened bonds, warm memories: Families recount holiday traditions

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–The endearing character of Tevye in the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” understood the importance of passing on family traditions.

“Any type of family tradition gives us a sense of comfort — we know what to expect,” Jeffrey Stotik, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mobile, said, adding, “Just about all families have some type of holiday tradition.

“Traditions provide us with a sense of security. They are psychologically and socially comforting. The familiarity of family traditions is particularly important, especially today, with all the anxiety people are experiencing after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” he noted.

Richard Tucker, minister of family and singles at Huffman Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala., said his family’s holiday tradition is one that is becoming less and less common among families living in the state’s metropolitan areas. Since 1987 he and his wife, Angie, have been taking their children to a tree farm in the country where they pick out their favorite tree and then cut it themselves. Part of the ritual of their tree-cutting excursion includes a hayride on the farm’s wagon, drinking hot chocolate and petting the farm’s animals.

Each of the Tucker children, 15-year-old Bradley, 13-year-old Jana and 9-year-old Landon, search the rows of the different variety of trees until they locate their favorite. After their mother makes the final decision, their father has the job of sawing the tree down, dragging it to the family car and securing it to the vehicle.

Tucker said it is a tradition they all look forward to each year and they usually get their tree by the first week in December. Although the tree farm they have gone to for years has closed, they have found another one that provides all the same amenities except the farm animals.

“We usually spend a few hours at the tree farm and then go home and decorate the tree the same day,” he said.

For the Campbell family, also of Birmingham, their Christmas tradition revolves around the senses of taste and smell. Ever since Don and his wife of 25 years, Debbie, have been married, she has been preparing homemade cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning. This family tradition is something their two children, 20-year-old Cliff and 16-year-old Kathryn, expect every year. “To them, this is as much a part of Christmas as our tree — they wouldn’t have it any other way. It wouldn’t be Christmas to them without the cinnamon rolls,” Debbie Campbell said.

Last year Cliff asked his mom if she would teach him how to make the rolls so that he could continue the tradition when he has his own family. Don, who is minister of music at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, said when he detects the aroma of cinnamon rolls in the air he knows it’s Christmas.

Like the Campbell family, Otis Bentley, director of missions for Alabama’s Randolph Baptist Association, said his family’s Christmas tradition is eating homemade rolls on Christmas morning, but they have orange rolls. “My wife has been cooking them every Christmas morning for the past 30 years. Even though our two daughters are grown, they still manage to be at the house on Christmas morning for the orange rolls,” he said with a chuckle. “Those orange rolls are the highlight of my morning,” he said.

For Chuck Francisco, pastor of Montgomery (Ala.) Baptist Association’s Friendship Baptist Church, and his wife, Gladys, their family tradition is a quiet devotional time every Christmas Eve. “We have dinner, open our gifts with our two grown daughters and then we have a devotion thanking God for the blessings of the past year,” Gladys said. “We’ve been doing this for 37 years. It’s our family time together,” she said, explaining that Christmas Day is reserved for relatives.

Some families have a number of Christmas traditions that fill their holidays. Such is the case with Rita and Wendell Bennett and their two young children, 5-year-old Hollie and 7-year-old Ethan. Wendell, who has been serving as bivocational pastor of Muscle Shoals Baptist Association’s Harmony Baptist Church in Moulton, Ala., for eight years, reserves one night during the holiday season when he, Hollie and Ethan spend the evening making chocolate-covered cherry treats. “It’s a very simple thing to make but it is something we all look forward to doing together,” Rita said.

Another family tradition Rita particularly enjoys is having Wendell become chef on Christmas morning when he prepares an elaborate brunch. Along with the immediate family, Wendell’s parents and Rita’s mother all sit down to enjoy a feast that includes hand-squeezed orange juice, ham, bacon, sausage, tenderloin, fried and scrambled eggs, grits and biscuits. “This is quite a feat for Wendell because as a rule he doesn’t cook, but he does a great job with our annual Christmas brunch,” Rita said. “It’s his treat to us and he enjoys preparing it as much as we enjoy eating it.”

Rita said another tradition she has started with her children is the lighting of a candle for their evening devotional time during Advent. “It’s dark and we just have the candle burning and we talk about the meaning of Christmas and we talk to God,” she said.

“These times are just so special for us,” she said. “Traditions are so important because they create identity in children and they also make us take time from our busy schedules to spend time with our family.”

Rita stressed the importance of making sure children understand the true meaning of Christmas and that they “not just focus on gift-giving.” In keeping with this philosophy, she has created two innovative ways of incorporating this ideal into fun activities that she says will continue to be Christmas traditions for her family.

A few years ago she purchased cookie cutters that represent Christmas symbols such as an angel, cross, dove, tree and heart. As she and her children make cookies every year, she explains what each symbol stands for in regard to Christ and the meaning of his birth. She also has Christmas ornaments of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wise men and they revisit the Christmas story again during the family’s tree decorating time. “We try to stress the importance of Christ being the center of Christmas,” she said.

“That’s why I think these Christmas traditions we have started are an important way of helping the children understand why we truly celebrate Christmas. These are traditions that I hope they will pass on to their children,” she said.

Margaret and James Rosser, members of Canaan Baptist Church in Bessemer, Ala., have begun a Christmas tradition they plan to continue for years to come.

In addition to their regular contribution to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, they are both making contributions to the Lottie Moon offering in lieu of exchanging gifts with each other. “This is our second year to do this and it is definitely a Christmas tradition we will continue,” Margaret said.

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  • Sue Ann Miller