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Just a few thoughts about Christmas

Christmastime is here, helping usher in the end of the second decade on the 21st century.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the traditions we keep, whether they be your standard Christmas traditions handed down from times of old, or simply personal traditions created with family, friends, and even your community.

Traditions mean a lot to me, bred into me early on by my own family. Grandma and Grandpa Adams raised 11 kids – four brothers and seven sisters. The first one, Sharon, was born on the kitchen table. Imagine “The Walton’s,” but all the Walton kids can play a musical instrument and sing.

They grew up poor. My grandparents never owned a house until the mid-1970s. They lived farmhouse to farmhouse in the backwoods of Marietta, Ohio, until settling into their own home in St. Marys, W.Va. Gifts were hard to come by, but my grandparents did the best they could. I remember an illustrated Bible my Dad had. He gifted it to me when I was a kid and we still have it.

My childhood Christmas memories are good, but we didn’t have much money growing up. Life was hard, but I didn’t know how hard until years later. The best parents are the ones who can make you think things are good when they’re not so good.

My Dad will tell you he never realized he was poor. I can say the same thing. Gifts were great, but we had family and that was even better. One tradition is our Adams family Christmas gift exchange.

I don’t remember when it started, but I remember we used to gather at my Uncle Steve’s. My aunts and older cousins would gather the day before to make Christmas treats, like Buckeyes. The day of we would have a wonderful meal. Grandma would make homemade noodles; Aunt Charlene would bring the ham. Everyone would bring something.

Once everyone ate their fill, Uncle Bud would break out the acoustic guitar, song books would be passed around, and we would sing Christmas carols. Then Uncle Bud would pass out the Christmas gifts. Every summer the family would gather for a reunion and draw names. Aunt Crystal was the keeper of the exchange names.

Things have changed. My Uncle Bud passed nearly two years ago, so we either sing to a CD or this year my Dad is bringing the karaoke machine to compensate. Instead of Uncle Bud passing out gifts, I do that, conscripting the kids of my cousins to help distribute the gifts. We don’t gather at a home anymore because there are too many of us, so we’re usually meeting in a community hall somewhere. One thing hasn’t changed: the love.

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I’m older now, and while I love keeping Christmas traditions with my family, I’m glad I can make new Christmas traditions. For the past eight years my best guy friends and I have traveled into the wilds of Eastern Kentucky to camp usually the first or second weekend before Christmas.

The first year we did this in 2011 was cold. Four of us went that year and camped in a tent with nothing more than sleeping bags and a catalytic heater. I didn’t think to bring a pad, so the only thing protecting me from the bare ground was my sleeping bag and the floor of the tent.

In 2012 a cabin was constructed, complete with a cast iron potbelly stove. A couple years later we added a great room and a lean-to to store firewood, and an outhouse. When I go, I turn off my phone on Friday and don’t turn it back on until Sunday. We cook on cast iron or over the fire pit. We pass around a bottle of Jameson, which I discovered last weekend I might be getting too old to do. Sometimes we hike the mountain. Sometimes we do a work project to add on to the cabin.

It’s become one of my favorite traditions, especially since I’m the last of my guy friends who have no children. I see these guys maybe every other month. We all have jobs, families, responsibilities, and issues. It means a lot to be able to get away, raise a stein over a roaring fire, and cheers our friendship.

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In St. Marys, my hometown re-started an old Christmas tradition: The Singing Christmas Tree. It used to be an annual part of the St. Marys High School Christmas program for decades. It ended just before I started my freshman year at SMHS because the scaffolding used to make the tree had become a fire hazard.

This year, the community had the great idea to revive the tradition. Instead of the high school choir performing, the county came together to sing, practicing for weeks. Instead of the old wood scaffolding, a new metal scaffolding was constructed. Last weekend was the debut performances of the Singing Christmas Tree. I wish I could have seen it, but I heard it was a hit.

Traditions are important, for families, for friends, and for our communities. In this day and age of division, where we’re constantly told we need to think politically, where social media rules so much of our lives now, we need reminders that we have more in common than we realize. This time of year we’re all united by one star shining in the sky, one baby being born in a manger, and the desire for peace on Earth and goodwill to men.

Whatever your traditions might be, from my family to yours I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.)

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