Big Celebrations: the Zuelzke Family

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Story by Allie Allsup
portraits by Lindsay Pace

For Tupelo native Lauren Zuelzke, having a family was always in the cards. Coming from a big family herself, she learned from a young age to always make the days count. They are not always guaranteed.

Whenever the Zuelzkes celebrate, they do it big. Zuelske credits her grandparents, Carlisle “Smitty” and Louise Harris, for most of her inspiration when it comes to celebrating holidays such as birthdays and Christmases.

“They are the heart of our family,” Zuelske said. “They keep everybody together.”

It wasn’t always like this, though.

“My grandfather was a prisoner of war for eight years after he was shot down in Vietnam,” Zuelske said. “When people began to move on, my grandmother never lost hope that he would return. She truly believed that he was going to come home and that there would be more birthdays and Christmases to celebrate.”

And he did.

“For us, we grew up on their story,” she said. “We grew up never taking any of that family time for granted. If anything, that is kind of how we embody holidays. We know how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy each other. It’s kind of led to our family motto: that we only have today.”

So, the Zuelskes value the holidays that matter most, and any celebrations they do, “they do big.”

Seeing her grandparents’  strength and love over the years prompted Zuelske to look for her partner. After meeting her husband, Jim, at Auburn University in 2006, they married and moved back to Tupelo four years later.

Soon after their decision to start a family, Lauren and Jim were met with fertility struggles. Because of this, the couple spent their first years in Tupelo immersed in the adoption process.

“It’s life changing,” Zuelske said. “It changes the whole family, and not just in the walls of our house, but within everyone.”

Even though they struggled throughout their journey, they welcomed two children they adopted from birth. Mary Lyle, who is now eight, and Bo, their son, who just turned four.

Zuelske credits her faith for shaping her life.

“Some of our biggest trials have turned into some of our biggest blessings. Such as the adoption with our kiddos,” she said. “It is the very reason why we cherish holidays so much and why we do celebrations as big as we do. We know we are so blessed with our family and our children and so we never take it for granted.”

The Zuelskes decorate the house from top to bottom. Lauren’s mother, Robin, who has been an interior designer for the past thirty years, serves as a great source of inspiration.

“I grew up playing with oriental rugs while she decided house plans and picked out things for clients,” Zuelske recalled. “We went everywhere with her when we were younger. So, it’s no surprise that I fell in love with antique shopping and finding the little treasures that come with this kind of work.”

Zuelske makes it clear, though, that everyone is involved in the decorating process.

“As a family, we are all super involved in getting the Christmas decorations out,” Zuelske said. “It’s never just me. We find simple joys in all getting together and opening up the special pieces and DIY handmade craft ornaments that we’ve collected.”

For Zuelske, Christmas isn’t Christmas without her family. It’s why last Christmas was slightly bittersweet. Family ended up having to quarantine together over the holidays, and any rush to head home halted.

“The Christmas Eve service is my favorite service out of the year, so when we couldn’t go, we kind of stayed home and created our own,” she said. “We sang ‘Silent Night’, lit candles, and played with toys after sitting in our pajamas all day. It was different, but it was sweet, too.”

It’s memories like these that Zuelske wants her children to carry with them. At Christmastime, especially, there are so many activities to get caught up in. She wants her children to “remember a time when we slowed down and embraced family,” she said.

Zuelske said the current cultural moment caused her to reflect on the holiday season.

“We do anything we can do to really spark joy and happiness.”

Because of this, the Zuelzke family has begun decorating their home even earlier than usual.

“At the end of the holiday season, I like to feel ready to take everything down. To feel like it’s been an appropriate amount of time,” Zuelske said. “By the time it’s over, it’s kind of time for that clean slate. Until it’s time to do it all over again next year.”

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