Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
It doesn’t matter how old you get or where life takes you, the memories you make around the holidays while growing up are things that will stick with you forever. Members of the Macon County Board of Commissioners and Franklin Town Council shared their favorite holiday memories.
Macon County Commission Chairman Jim Tate
“My grandmother has hosted Christmas Eve dinner on the hill at her house in Highlands at 6 p.m. every year since I was born, so for me it has been a consistent tradition that has molded my love for family and Christmas. Of course, through the years the meaning has changed from being all about the presents and food as a child to all about the love and conversation as an adult. This Christmas will be extremely difficult for me as my grandmother passed a few weeks ago. So, for the first time in my life I plan on attending a midnight church service this Christmas Eve and give prayerful thanks for the 45 years of blessings and calories that my grandmother bestowed upon me and my family. And, yes, the family conversation has already begun on the next Tate Family Christmas tradition, so stay tuned, but what I can assure you is that it will have lots of presents, lots of love, lots of laughter and yes, lots of calories!”
Franklin Town Councilmember Barbara McRae
“My father was in the U.S. Air Force, so we moved around frequently, but whenever possible, we headed to my grandparents’ place in Atlanta for Christmas. They had a huge house, and my grandmother devoted a whole room to Christmas – I guess you’d call it a drawing room. Her trees always reached to the very high ceiling – they seemed enormous to me, like something from the deep woods. Cousins would come over and we would have a magical time, playing the piano and singing Christmas songs, listening to the radio, or chatting up a storm. We always had a crowd for dinner. There would be an immense spread, with all the aunts and great-aunts bringing their specialties. I especially remember the traditional family fruit cake (a Kentucky bourbon cake) and the ambrosia my grandmother’s best friend brought. Now that I’m grown up, I appreciate the amount of work it must have taken my grandmother to stage this event. I hope I let her know how much it meant to me.”
Macon County Commissioner Karl Gillespie
“Growing up, Christmas was time that was spent with family and friends (who I thought of as family). During the days leading up to Christmas, the house would have the smell of cakes being baked or a turkey in the oven. I always enjoyed being available to test what was being cooked. On Christmas Eve the adults enjoyed watching us kids try to figure out what the one present was that we would be allowed to open. On Christmas morning the tree would have more presents than the night before and Santa never failed to know what each kid wanted. After we opened packages the table would be set with every kind of food you could imagine. Christmas has always been a time to come home, be with family, a time to visit and reconnect. As an adult, I was blessed for 17 years to have a job that allowed me to travel, but no matter where my job took me, I was always home for Christmas!”
I was the youngest of four children. In the ’50s, shortly after I was born, Dick Scott, my father’s best friend, rewrote “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” incorporating the Collins children. Very meaningful.”
Macon County Commissioner Gary Shields
“My fondest Christmas memory has two aspects while growing up, one was the home traditions and the other was the church. My father, Rev. W. K. Shields, was a local rural Baptist preacher. One tradition in our home prior to Christmas Eve was mama and her sisters and a few best friends would spend a week making homemade cakes. I have seen at least a dozen cakes being made in the kitchen and transferred to the dining room to cool. Then on Christmas Eve the cakes were divided up between families and all guests visiting over the holiday were treated to slices of homemade cakes. The most memorable traditions I remember is the churches my dad pastored. My dad pastored a number of rural churches in Macon County. When Thanksgiving was over, the focus was on Christmas and its spiritual meaning of the birth of Christ and the season of giving. The churches he pastored always had a “play” that consisted of music and the biblical story about the birth of Jesus. The “actors” were recruited from its church members and the humor that was generated when some members would try to shame Hollywood. Another memory was on the night of the Christmas “play” and especially when the “play” ended, everyone received some type of gift and many of us would save our gift to put under our “real” tree at home. Also, fruit and candy canes were placed in brown paper bags called “pokes” under the church Christmas tree and handed out for everyone to take home. Everyone had an opportunity to show their innate abilities in music, acting and most of all “giving.”
Franklin Town Councilmember Brandon McMahan
“I think that one of the great things about traditions is how much you can always rely on them. No matter how much the world around us is changing, we can always count on a few traditions to be there for us year after year. Everybody has them, especially at Christmas, and my family is no exception. Christmas always starts on Christmas Eve for the McMahans, when we all gather together at my mom’s house for the big, family gift exchange. Years ago, everyone tried to buy gifts for everyone else, but the family has grown so large, we draw names now. There’s always cookies, and veggie trays, and little party snacks, and everyone mingles around that until everyone gets there. There’s always one sibling that’s way late getting there, and it’s usually me. During this time, the young kids are all looking for the glass pickle in the Christmas tree. Whoever finds it wins a prize, and gets to hide it next year.
When everyone arrives, we gather in mom’s living room, around the tree. Someone always reads the Biblical Christmas story to the family. It used to be my dad who did this, but since he passed away a few years ago, one of us (me or my brothers) takes it up. I always get choked up during this, but when we’re done, it’s present time. Someone always plays Santa and distributes the gifts, kids first, and then there’s the usual explosion of wrapping paper, and thank-yous, and oohs and aahs. The kids presents can’t be handed out until my mom unveils each kid’s “secret identity.” However, to prevent shaking and guessing of presents before Christmas, mom gives each kid a secret, made up name, so only she knows what belongs to who. After presents, we always play the “left, right game.” The family stands in a big circle, and one of two small, wrapped presents is given to a person on each side of the circle. My mom then reads a story she has written (a new one each year), with liberal use of the words “left” and “right” (or “write”), and every time she says one of these words, whoever has the present passes it in that direction. Whoever is holding it at the end of the story, gets to open it and keep it. It’s great fun. After that, it’s always watching the Santa Tracker on the internet, and standing out on the porch, watching the sky for Rudolph’s nose, and we always see it, every year, then my own family (me, my wife, my son) will head home to get ready for Santa.
The next morning we will wake up, usually really, really early (as kids, we would sneak into my parents’ room at like 3 am, to wake them up for presents. It’s not that early now, but still…) open our presents at home, immediately call my brothers to see what they got, then breakfast, and off to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas with her, and usually a big Christmas lunch at her house, followed by naps, and maybe some old movies. If we have any energy left at that point, we usually visit the houses of my brothers, and go to bed early, thrilled with how awesome Christmas was, and sad that the Christmas season is behind us.”
“My mother, grandmother, grandfather, great aunt and I always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My family would gather for lunch at 1 p.m. each year on Christmas Eve. It was always just the five of us. My grandmother cooked the entire meal. She always had her famous signature rolls, homemade canned green beans, creamed corn, pumpkin pie and much more. However, after lunch I could not wait until 6 p.m. to come. Every year at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve my grandparents would come to my mother’s house and we would open gifts. I once asked my mom why we celebrated on Christmas Eve and she replied, “when I was a child growing up we had the same tradition so we have continued the tradition on with you.” Even now with the passing of my mother and grandfather, my grandmother, great aunt and I continue the tradition on Christmas Eve. My mother and I also had our own tradition with stocking gifts. We always had five gifts each. We would open one gift each night until Christmas Day. A couple other memories from my childhood include always being in our church Christmas play. I have always grown up with the story of when I was two years old and was an angel in our church’s Christmas play that I ran onto stage during a scene with Mary and Joseph and stole baby Jesus from the nativity and proceeded to go sit down with him in the audience.”
Macon County Vice Chairman Ronnie Beale
“As a young boy, one of my very favorite Christmas memories is that regardless of whether or not we had a whole lot on Christmas, my family always made sure that we shared what we did have with others. My mother and grandmother always made sure that we understood the true meaning of Christmas and that we knew that it was a special time of year to share what we had because even if we didn’t have very much, there was always someone who had a little less. I remember going to neighbors’ houses, or even strangers and sharing things we were blessed to have with someone who might have needed it more. I remember thinking on more than one occasion that whatever we were giving was something my family could have used, but my family made sure we understood that we should share our blessings with other, not just at Christmas time, but all the time. As I got older and had a family of my own, that was something I wanted to instill in them. I remember their first Christmas and the anticipation of Christmas but always wanting to make sure they understood why were were celebrating. I hope that is something I was able to pass on to my own family. I also remember it seemingly to always snow on Christmas, which is something that just doesn’t happen any more. If it didn’t always snow, it was always at least cold, but now it seems like its summertime!”