Christmas at the Camp Compound

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lauren Wood

In small-town Mississippi – Mantachie to be precise – at the top of a small hill sits a house that now belongs to Tyler Camp. Surrounding it are homes owned by his parents and aunts’ families. There, atop the hill, that is the heart of the Camp Compound.

The average bachelor pad likely does not strive to preserve a family’s history and traditions; but at Tyler Camp’s house, every object is attached to a story and a memory.

“My family’s all about tradition,” Camp said in his living room.

Camp’s house used to belong to his grandmother. When she died in 2014, it sat empty for nearly two years before Camp bought the house from his family. Camp’s grandfather, a county prosecutor and state senator, built the house for his family. Camp’s father and aunts grew up in the house, and remember it fondly. With their help, Camp was able to preserve many family traditions and heirlooms. From the building receipts his grandfather kept after the house was completed, a framed document of the house’s first gas bill, to a lantern that once sat on a table in the family’s lake cabin, the home is riddled with endless familial connections.

If something is in the house, whether a light fixture, pottery and décor, or a table, if it was not passed down through the Camps, odds are it’s Mississippi-made or bought locally.

“Anything Mississippi, I will buy,” Camp said. “I don’t know why, but I am just obsessed with Mississippi-made stuff.”

While the home has family ties on every surface, one family member’s presence is particularly felt: Camp’s grandmother. A guest room showcases many of her belongings: a quilt made of leftover fabric found in the basement, her sewing scissors and thread spools, a piece of artwork she painted, and perhaps most significantly, her green chair. Camp remembers every Christmas morning, his grandmother would sit in her green chair watching over as the family gathered together for their holiday celebrations. Christmas was always hosted in her home. 

Other knick knacks around the home pay homage to family. One piece, Camp’s favorite piece, may not always fit the themes of each room, but it makes an appearance every year. The piece, a Santa in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, was gifted to the family the first Christmas they spent in the house. Since then, it has become a Camp Christmas staple.

“The only time it wasn’t in the house was after my grandmother passed away – whoever was hosting Christmas that year, they displayed the Santa and reindeer in their house,” Camp said. “So it was like taking a piece of my grandmother’s house to wherever we were.” 

The Camps’ family Christmases have returned to his home, and thus, so has the Santa. 

“It’s got a huge Tupperware box downstairs in the basement that only (it) lives in,” Camp said. “That’s a pretty cool piece. It’s not pretty at all, there’s nothing you can do to it to make it look pretty, but it’s more so the story and the meaning behind it.”

Camp, who works for Itawamba Community College as the special assistant to the president, has a knack for design. From his work at ICC, wedding coordinating and remodeling his home, this natural gift is utilized every day.

I enjoy it, it’s fun. It’s kind of like a stress reliever to be able to just come in and redo something,” he said smiling. “To kind of look at where something is, and kind of create it to be something else. It’s fun.”

Starting the week of Thanksgiving, Camp gets Christmas underway – combining his talent of decorating with family traditions. Christmas decorations in the formal dining room reflect the first Christmas the Camp family spent in the home. Camp’s father and aunts remembered the blue ornaments adorning the tree their first Christmas in the house. Camp designed the room based on those ornaments, with an icy blue theme. 

“We found a whole box of those ornaments; and whenever we found them, going through it, my family (remembered) those ornaments on the first tree,” Camp said. “And that was back whenever they would go cut the pine tree down in the backyard and they would bring it in, and they would flock it downstairs in the basement, so it was fun to incorporate that in those trees.”

The outside of the house is decorated with “very traditional” Christmas pieces.

“I only do white lights,” Camp said. “The big-bulb lights typically line the outside roof of the house. I’m very traditional when it comes to the outside, so it’s the green wreath with the red satin bow.”

In the den, the decorations become more customized to Camp’s personal life. There, the tree is adorned with Christopher Radko ornaments and pieces reflecting his love for Washington, D.C., his self-proclaimed second home. 

But one room’s décor goes against Camp’s style. One year, Camp abandoned his typical preferences and decorated a tree with elves, embracing the whimsical nature of Christmas. To his surprise, and perhaps slightly to his chagrin, the elves were a big hit.

“My little cousins, whenever I did it the first year, they were obsessed with that tree. So from now on, that will be the elf tree. And every time there’s a new (child in the family),” he said, “there’s a new elf put on that tree.”

Each year, Camp will go to his parents’ house to meet his immediate family for their Christmas morning traditions. There, as is tradition, he will have new ornaments in his stocking to place on the tree in the den, and each family member has a stack of gifts wrapped in color-coordinated paper from Santa. Once the gifts from Santa are unwrapped, Camp’s close family and extended relatives will all make their way to his house. There, just like when his grandmother hosted Christmas, they will have lunch. After lunch, the whole family will open gifts from one another and play games, followed by Christmas dinner.

Though much has changed over the years at the Camp Compound, much of Christmas has managed to remain the same. That’s thanks in part to Camp’s work to preserve his family’s traditions, and to continue hosting the Camp Christmas at his home, his grandmother’s home.

“I know the impact she made on this community, I know the impact she made on my family and the impact she made on me,” Camp said. “So to keep this house (in the family), to recreate it, and to bring it up to date and kind of cherish the family traditions that we’ve had and the memories that we’ve had in this house, I think she’d be very proud.”

1 Comment
  1. I am sure that Mrs. Gwendolyn would be very proud of what you have done with the family home and how you all have kept love and family the center of Christmas.

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