By W. Derek Russell
Sometimes it’s the smell of your grandmother’s cranberry sauce or a movie that you and your family gathered around to watch on December 24, but no matter your race, religion or background – everyone has memories of the holidays that they still hold near and dear to them to this day.
At this time of year, we reflect back on those moments and memories that bring us closer together through the common ground we all experience.
“Like most families, Christmas was always a special time for us growing up. My mother always went above and beyond for my brother and me to have a great Christmas. We have many silly traditions that continue to this day that make the holidays something to look forward to.
As a child, the presents are at the top of the list, but as we get older, we appreciate that Christmas is first and foremost a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, our Lord and Savior.”
– City of Tupelo mayor Jason Shelton
“I am the youngest of 18 children my mother and father had. Three siblings died as infants, leaving 15 of us. Several of my older sisters and brothers were married and had children of their own before I was born. But, they all came home on Sundays for church and family dinners.
Christmas was always my most memorable holiday. My dad and older brothers always found the perfect tree in the pastures, chopped it down and brought it home for us to decorate. As they got older and left home, and Dad got older, it was eventually my older brother, two older sisters and I that went to the pastures. Then, it was just my older sister, Alcola, and I. We were always amazed that the tree that was so perfect in the pasture was so big when we got it back home. Then, we would laugh as we trimmed one side too much and had to do the other side again. We never knew how much we lacked because we always knew that on Christmas, Santa would leave us a shoe box with apples, oranges, a box of raisins and nuts. I can’t remember other gifts, but I always knew that I would get that box of goodies.
My dad had the most amazing bass voice and he and his brother, my brother-in-law and his brother formed an acapella quartet. Music was always a part of my life. We never watched Christmas movies, but Dad loved “The Lawrence Welk Show.” I learned every song they sang during the Christmas holidays over the years. ”Silver Bells” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” are still two of my favorites from childhood memories. My surviving eight siblings and I still celebrate Christmas together, along with four generations of off-springs. I love Christmas!”
– Boys and Girls Club of North Mississippi chief professional officer Zell Long
“My wife and I have a Christmas Eve tradition of attending the Candlelight Service at Harrisburg Baptist Church and retreating back to our house for food and fellowship with family and friends, before preparing for the big guy’s arrival that night. My wife took over hosting duties from my mother-in-law a number of years ago and while I begrudgingly help clean the house preparing for guests all day Christmas Eve, I know that it is worth it because it means so much to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with those you love the most. We always rush home after visiting with out of town friends at the candlelight service because it is a race to keep our 12, 10 and 6-year olds in their nice clothes to get a picture in front of the Christmas tree and prepare for our guests’ arrival. We then say a prayer thanking God for our wonderful blessings and start with a large plate of food followed by grazing for a couple of hours until we are all miserable.
The next morning begins with the wonder and delight of Santa’s delivery during the night and is usually followed by the opening of ridiculously over secured packaging of children’s toys with screws. We then settle in to prepare for all of the stops to be made visiting grandparents and cousins from out of town that last late into Christmas night. There will always be a television on with some sort of college or NFL football game being played that lulls me to sleep from the late night and early morning.”
– Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Neal McCoy
“My favorite Christmas occurred when I was six-years old. Mary Lou Retton was the first American to win the all around in the summer Olympics and she was my hero. That Christmas, I received my favorite gift of all time: A Mary Lou Retton, long sleeve American flag gymnastics leotard. I wore it every day. Every single day, under my clothes, for at least a full year. I remember asking Santa the next year for a replacement leotard because I had worn mine out. But much to my devastation, they didn’t make them anymore. It is, and always will be, my favorite childhood gift. That Christmas was also special because I had asked Santa Claus to see our first snow filled Christmas. And lo and behold, he came through. Santa was really good to me in 1984.
Christmas is my favorite time of year simply for the moments I spend with my family. My father is very traditional in the fact that he looks forward to watching “A Christmas Story” over and over again. And we always mark the Christmas season with the annual viewing of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” But for me, it’s not Christmas until you see Bing Crosby tap dancing with Danny Kaye in “White Christmas.”
– North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra executive director Lisa Martin
“When I hear the word Hanukkah I get a goofy smile on my face and my mouth starts to water. Just the single word Hanukkah brings to mind latkes and the lighting of the candles. The first night of Hanukkah is a time when our family and friends gather to tell the story of the Miracle of Lights. Children listen intently about how the Maccabees battled against Antiochus and the Syrians to take back the holy temple and won. While the Maccabees were putting the temple back together, they found only enough oil to burn in the eternal lamp, above the ark, for one day. But, by a miracle, the oil lasted eight days and nights until new oil could be refined. In remembrance of this miracle, candles are lit, one the first night, two the second night and so on until eight candles are burning brightly. I remember, so vividly, being a small child with my very own small menorah. My mom would light the shamash, or helper candle, on mine and my brother’s menorahs and we would recite the blessings while lighting the candles with the shamash. Once I had my own family, I carried on the tradition with the telling of the story and my son having his own menorah. The next generation has now arrived and I have passed this on to my grandson with his own menorah. Whether we are together or Facetiming, new memories are being made as we recite the prayers together and light the candles.
The first night was also when we would have the festive meal. Everyone sitting around the table, talking loud, laughing and having a good time. Mom had been in the kitchen most of the day preparing our feast and house smell wonderful. Our dinner was typically made up of brisket, tzimmes (carrots, apples, raisins and sweet potatoes), homemade applesauce and latkes. Oh my goodness! Latkes are these yummy, golden, fried potato pancakes that are crisp on the outside side and tender on the inside. They are then fried in oil to represent the oil that burned for miraculously for eight days. Some would place a dollop of homemade applesauce on top while others, like me, would slather them in sour cream. You just couldn’t seem to get enough. Latkes are still one of my favorite things and always makes me think of family and Hanukkah.”
– The McCarty Company senior construction project manager Leslie Mart
“I grew up in the Wren community in an era of black and white televisions, two or three station choices and, of course, no remotes – very littles decision were needed on what to watch and when to watch during the holidays. In fact. what I remember most from the 1960s was the animated Christmas shows like “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I am sure I am opening myself for disdain from all those appalled but I did not have any interest in those when I was a kid and still don’t today. In fact, I don’t think I’ve never watched any of them from beginning to end. Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure they are delightful family fare and if one of my nieces or nephews wanted to watch them I would be thrilled to do that because that is what a good uncle does. But personally, not for me. However the show that always captured my attention then, and still does today, is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The story of longing for adventure but doing what is right for your family grabs me every time. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards but only won one technical award and opened to mixed reviews in 1946. Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, complimented some of the actors but concluded that “the weakness of this picture is the sentimentality of it.” Mr. Crowther, count this kid a huge fan of the sentimental. Family, love, loss, potential disaster, bumbling uncles, charming old homes that are falling part, cute kids, a gym with a swimming pool under the basketball court and, did I mention a very humorous Angel that can’t get it right? I’m sure we all question what our lives are worth at some point and if we really have any positive effect on people and our community. Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George made me smile when I was 10 and still does today. And, as a side note, the first play I directed in 1992, long before I worked at TCT, was the stage adaptation of this marvelous movie. I love that show but first I loved that movie and never tire of watching it each year.”
– Tupelo Community Theatre executive director Tom Booth
“My fondest memories are watching the Macy’s parade with my father and walking through the kitchen where my mother prepared dinner to all the food. Our house smelled like a hand-poured holiday candle selection. I also enjoyed the presence of extended family.
My parents have always treated everyone with open arms, respect and love. One holiday season I met five out-of-town college-age students selling books door-to-door on the day before Thanksgiving. After inquiring about their wellbeing I quickly determined they were far from home and resolved to offer a commercial grade holiday. I knew Mom would have more than enough food and Dad would shower them with hospitality. I invited them to come back the next day and enjoy Thanksgiving with us. To my surprise they accepted the invitation and returned. They enjoyed our home and we fellowshipped in the true spirit of giving and love.”
– City of Tupelo director of development services Shane Hooper