Carrying on traditions keeps holidays alive
by Juanita Hughes
Columnist
December 05, 2012 12:07 AM | 960 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
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Somehow it seems that Christmas jumps off the calendar page way earlier every year.

When I was younger, I thought ahead … made lists, helped Santa organize, even did some Sears and Penney’s catalog shopping.

In fact, during November and early December 1957, I was well-prepared for Christmas morning. Our older daughter was 33 months old, and our second was 15 months old.

Baby Number Three was due to arrive on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t afford to wait until the last minute to get ready for Santa’s visit.

On Wednesday, Dec. 11, little Sarah was born, and by Christmas Day, she was two weeks old.

Santa Claus had come and gone, having successfully left some goodies.

Another member of the family, a gun-shy bird dog that some hunter managed to unload on our household, had also delivered … 12 puppies.

Visitors to see Sarah were often escorted out the back door to see this wonder of wonders. I attribute our girls’ love of animals to this early exposure to the animal kingdom.

Although at the time I felt that our new baby was overlooked, I realized later that we were probably the only family in Dalton that got 12 puppies and a precious, live baby doll for Christmas. It can’t get much better than that.

There would not be another Christmas like that one. Our lives took different turns through the years.

Since I was a stay-at-home mom, my life revolved pretty much around those three little girls and a husband who spent most of his time trying to make a living.

We moved a few times, ended up in Woodstock, and I went to work. Christmas celebrations changed, morphed into a mix of friends, family, church, and community gatherings.

Gift-giving, food preparation, entertaining, even church-related activities took on new elements. The need for organization was more urgent than ever.

By the time our “nest” was empty, some traditions were beginning to settle into place while we had outgrown or lost others.

One of the best church/community celebrations never really caught on: the combined choirs from the Baptist and Methodist churches performed a Christmas cantata at least once.

The pastors were best friends, and the congregations were very compatible. Also, a community sing-along “caroling” at the depot brought townspeople together.

For two decades Woodstock was blessed to have a huge store that gave Christmas the spotlight. Folks did not have to go outside the city limits to find the latest toy for the kids or a piece of jewelry for Mom.

Keenum’s Pharmacy was right in the middle of town, and after a few years, Keenum‘s Gift and Toyland had its own location.

After retirement, Don Keenum began his own tradition, having purchased a Santa suit and changing his name to Santa Don.

One of our own family traditions is to display the array of photos of Santa Don with many of our own little ones on his knee. Santa Don is no longer with us, and he cannot be replaced.

By this time next week, daughter Sarah will have hosted the annual Hughes Christmas gathering. It’s always the second Saturday in December, a date established on the first Christmas after the 1983 death of the matriarch, Leona Davis Hughes.

Her children take turns at hosting, and as they age, the next generation is picking up that responsibility.

The dinner is always near (and sometimes is on) Sarah’s birthday and we often sing Happy Birthday to her.

This year will be no different, and since I’m truly grateful to her for playing hostess in my stead, I’ll try to do something special for this one, her 55th.

December birthdays are often lost in the shuffle and even more so as the number of family members increases. Within our own circle, we are now up to 20 with another great-grandbaby on the way.

We’re trying to keep some established traditions…the annual Thanksgiving photo that will be our Christmas card, drawing names on Thanksgiving for the Christmas Eve dinner at our home (Can we call it the Old Homeplace yet?), and, for me, decorating the tree.

A new tree this year did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm as I hung those precious ornaments, many of them depictions of structures that hold endless memories of the places that have had meaning in our lives.

And so we’re off and running. The Advent is upon us, that still, small voice that whispers of the coming of the Christ Child. Our flurry of activity becomes trivial in the magnitude of the Nativity, the reason for the season, as they say.

Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.
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