It's a tradition: Families find ways to stay close and make memories
BY NOUR HABIB World Scene Writer
Monday, December 24, 2012
12/24/12 at 4:04 AM
The holiday season is heavy with traditions, and local families have many to share.
Whether it's the simple act of watching a movie together every year or 25 days of planned activities leading up to Christmas, the traditions of these Tulsa-area families all revolve around preserving memories and bringing their families closer together.
Christmas is often on Mitzi Thomas' mind when she's far from home.
In 1998, while on her honeymoon in St. Lucia, Thomas bought a Christmas ornament to help her remember the trip. Almost 15 years later, her giant Christmas tree is covered with more than 40 ornaments from her trips.
"It's kind of become our tradition," said Thomas, who has three children. "We enjoy travel. It's a big part of what we do as a family."
Among the items hanging on her tree are a crawfish in a boat from New Orleans, a starfish from Puerto Rico, palm trees from the Florida Keys and a cactus from Arizona.
Looking for ornaments on vacation is like a game. And once home and decorating the tree for the holidays, each ornament brings back memories of a time past.
Three decades of family talent
Dave Rader's Christmas tradition goes back to 1979.
The former University of Tulsa football player and head coach said as his family grew and it became more difficult for everyone to gather on Christmas, his mother and aunts came up with an alternative plan. Now they gather on the Saturday before Christmas for a family talent show.
"Those Saturday nights, we've had cold and snow and we've had rain and we've had beautiful weather," Rader said. "We have gone from an 8 mm camera to a shoulder video camera to a handheld camera to an iPhone video camera to record each of these events."
Lip-synching, joke telling and magic tricks are among the talents that have popped up through the years. And the finale, in which everyone must participate, involves a sing-off.
Rader's three children are in their 20s.
"They know no Christmas preparation other than this family talent show," he said.
Once when one of Rader's children was working out of town and couldn't make it to the gathering, he used online video chatting software to watch the talent show and participate.
"Now we have even gone beyond the house and across time zones and included people in the tradition," Rader said.
He said traditions are important because they keep families connected, and are especially important when raising children.
"As far as raising your kids, there has to be a strong knowledge that there is a support group that's there for you," he said.
The Rev. Deron Spoo of First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa and his family observe Advent, which begins four Sundays before Christmas.
Each night Spoo and his wife and kids - ages 10, 13 and 15 - do a family activity.
Sometimes it is simple, like going out for ice cream or reading a Christmas book. Several nights involve service, like the night this year that they volunteered at John 3:16 Mission.
One day involves a big event, like watching a show at the Performing Arts Center.
"It really does build the anticipation," he said.
Spoo's wife, Paula, came up with the idea when their children were young. The family has a cardboard Advent house, with small doors that open.
Behind each door, Paula Spoo places a piece candy and a rolled up piece of paper with the night's activity.
The family gathers at the house every morning, and one of the children gets to open the door and reveal what they will do that day.
Paula Spoo said she wanted to create a tradition that would help pull her family together.
"The traditions that we did when I was a little girl made me look forward to the time we would spend as a family," she said.
An evening of enchiladas and queso
During World War II, Rob Brewer's grandfather was stationed at an Air Force base just outside of Albuquerque.
While there, Brewer's grandmother learned how to cook Mexican food.
That food cropped up every Christmas Eve, when Brewer and his family would head to his grandmother's house for enchiladas, salsa, queso and more.
Brewer's grandmother died more than 25 years ago, but the tradition has carried on.
"It reminds me of the old days and the folks that aren't with us anymore," Brewer said of the importance of the tradition to him. "The food is great, the family is together and we're celebrating a wonderful thing."
At Terri Thames' house, the movie "Christmas Vacation" has been a tradition since it was released about 20 years ago.
The movie was popular at her house because everyone enjoyed it - including her two sons who were 10 years apart in age.
"The silliness, the funniness, it appealed to a little boy and an older boy," Thames said. Her sons, now 23 and 33, still come home every Christmas Eve to watch it.
Terri's older son, Dustin, said the movie became something they all quoted year-round.
And since their father's death in 2010, the movie has brought back memories of his laughter, Dustin Thames said.
Not all traditions go back decades. Missy Barron began a tradition with her kids about five years ago.
She, her husband and their friends take their children to sing Christmas carols for neighbors.
"I think it brings the spirit of Christmas back," said Barron, who has three boys ages 4, 8 and 11.
Barron began the tradition when she lived in midtown Tulsa, but has continued it after moving to Talala three years ago, despite it being harder because houses are much farther apart.
But the family still spends about two to three hours on the weekend before Christmas walking from house to house to spread the Christmas cheer. Afterward, they return home for cookies and hot chocolate.
Barron said she started the tradition so her children could build memories. She said she remembers many traditions that her grandmother started, like making candy around the holidays.
"I want to make sure I have those stories," she said.
Original Print Headline: It's a tradition
Nour Habib 918-581-8369
Tulsan Mitzi Thomas decorates her Christmas tree with more than 40 ornaments that she has acquired on various trips, including this one from St. Croix. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Mitzi Thomas collects ornaments with her family while traveling. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Mitzi Thomas' Christmas tree includes ornaments from her travels to the Florida Keys. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Mitzi Thomas' Christmas tree includes ornaments from her travels to St. Lucia. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Mitzi Thomas' Christmas tree includes ornaments from her travels to the Bahamas. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World