When the girls were young, Christmas was rarely the same each year - some years I had to work, some years Tom had to work, some years we spent it at my sister's home in Indiana and some years we were at our home trying to make it to both sets of grandparents in one day.
We had a few things we did whenever we were in our own home for the holiday like watching "A Christmas Carol" with all four of us in our bedroom (that way I knew when they were asleep and it was safe to put out the presents and fill the stockings - they rarely made it past Marley's ghost). Most of our traditions were flexible like the "Wehrheim Family Ornaments". No matter where we celebrated or on what date, the ornaments have been a part of our Christmas for over 30 years.
In 1977, my sister Jane got the idea to put up 'stockings' on the mantle for everyone who would be at our parents' house on Christmas Day, She waited until everyone else had gone to bed and since I was a night owl even then - asked me if I wanted to help her. She had purchased a pair of socks for everyone (there were about 15 or so I think) from our parents down to the niece and nephew who had been born that year. There were men's work socks, brightly striped toe socks for my mom and our Aunt Ruth (yes those are not a new fashion statement - they were around over 30 years ago), sport socks and baby socks. We nailed one sock to the mantle then stuffed the other sock inside with some candy or a small toy. The shock on my mom's face the next morning was priceless - who in the world??? It did not take her very long to figure out who although my younger brother could have easily done something like that.
In 1978, Jane and I purchased gold engraved ornaments for everyone and hung them on the mantle. In 1979, we bought little wicker baskets, filled them with candy and placed them on the hearth - one for each person.
Then Jane married and moved to Michigan and did not even get to come home for Christmas 1980 - so I took over. And it became my 'task' every year. I started making some sort of ornament for everyone. One year my mom helped but usually it was my yearly project. (Dad made a special strip of wood to attach to the mantle so we would stop nailing holes for 15, 20 or even 30 ornaments each year)
Then I got married and had a baby - who had time - right? So I announced on Christmas 1989 that Santa was retiring. Both sisters grabbed me by the arms and drug me into the bedroom to have a conference. They did not want the tradition to stop (it had been going on for 12 years by that time) They realized that since they did not live locally the bulk of the burden would still fall on me but they wanted to be elves. So we started planning for the next year.
Over the years we have cross-stitched, painted, glued, laced, stuffed, designed - you name it. We also started having Sisters' Weekends in 1991 - and during our weekend retreat we would either start on the ornaments which we took home to finish or complete all of the ornaments over the weekend.
Some years we have not been able to find a time to get together so we just work on our share at our own pace. A few years we have 'allowed' other family members to help out.
One year, a niece learned how to cross-stitch helping us make some of the family ornaments.
In God's providence in 1995 and 2005 one of our nieces agreed early in the year to do the ornaments for everyone using her skill in painting and stamping. Unknown to any of us (of course) those were the years our Mom ('95), youngest brother ('95), and Dad ('05) passed away. Those years were both very emotional and busy for us and making the ornaments that was one less thing we had to worry about. God is good!
Things have changed - Mom, Dad, Brother Dave, Aunt Nina, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Les are no longer with us.
We have another generation in the family.
We no longer get together on Christmas Day but usually sometime close to that - and even though Mom and Dad are gone - our family has remained very close and involved with each other.
A 'highlight' of the Christmas gathering is the delivery of the ornaments. Usually the grandchildren and great-grandchildren are handed the ornaments by one of the 'aunts' so they can deliver them to each family member. If there are any guests -they get an ornament too.
And our numbers have grown - we are up to 43. In 2010, we gained 3 (one birth and two marriages). In 2011 - we gained two new members through an engagement (congrats Jamie and Dave)and a birth (Luke). We are already expecting a new baby in 2012 (No - not Katie and Jake - Congrats to Nick and Grace).
And we have tweaked our criteria for the ornaments a little - we add the year and the recipient's name.
It is interesting - my sisters and I may not agree on everything - but I think we would agree on one thing - families are important and tradition is a glue that holds the family together. The best part of the tradition is the memories. When I put up our tree and pull out one of the family ornaments - it's not just something pretty to hang on the tree - it is a memory. I think about where we celebrated that year, how we got the idea for the ornament, who helped with the task, where we went for our Sisters' Weekend or the fun we had making them (and with a few, the PAIN we had making them).
Each one is special - and Lord willing we will continue making them for many years. In 2012, one of the great-nieces is requesting to help us so hopefully the tradition will carry on for many more generations.
In 1977 we did not 'plan' to create a 30+ year tradition (for our 30th anniversary we made some ornaments with snowmen cross stitched and put some music buttons inside so when you squeeze them they play Frosty the Snowman - and we have the '30 years' stitched on the back). We did what we love for the people we love.