Christmas is a time to sit down and think about your family legacy. Legacy being the stories and traditions that get captured; then live beyond you. After we’re gone, what do we leave behind?
There are two legacies in our family, both inspired by our mothers and both involving Christmas trees.
My mother loved Christmas. It was one of her favorite times of year. She loved to make candy, and she loved to bake. More than anything, she loved making all that food for the entire family. Many years, my grandmothers, uncles and aunts would all come to our house.
Unfortunately, I lost my mom when I was young. We buried my mother the day before I started my freshman year of high school. Christmas became a challenge because even though my dad likes Christmas, my dad is not my mom. It was hard those following years. Christmas wasn’t the same.
My wife, Angel, and I got married four days before Christmas. This created a happy experience for us, and we celebrate 22 years this year. Angel loves Christmas. Her family loves Christmas. When I lost my mother, I went into a dark season. Angel’s family’s celebration of Christmas really brought back the joy and excitement. Being welcomed into her family redeemed Christmas for me.
My wife and I both graduated from Texas A&M University. There is a tradition every year where they honor those who have passed away. Being familiar with that tradition, we chose to honor my mother through the Saint Tammany Parish Hospital’s Tree of Lights, which benefits our local hospice. This is a hospital that has been there for us through incredible times and scary times.
Every year the hospital has a Christmas tree covered in angels. We decided to keep a record of all the people we knew who were affected by losing a loved one each year and honor them with an angel on the Christmas tree. For the last nine years, our family has made a donation to the hospital to buy the angels to go on the tree. We sponsor the angels in honor of my mother, and they put out a little placard that says, “In memory of Kathleen Dunavant.” For my kids, it’s the kickoff to Christmas. We go to go to the tree lighting ceremony every year, sing Christmas carols and drink hot chocolate.
This tree has become a special part of my mother’s legacy. It’s a way to remember my mother and her love of Christmas, and starts off the Christmas season for us in a really special way.
When Christmas is over, the angels come off the tree and are delivered to our office. We pass the angels on to our friends who were affected by loss that year, and they can remember their loved one every following Christmas when they hang that angel ornament on their tree.
That’s how the legacy of my mother lives on through Christmas time. That’s one tree. Let me tell you about another tree.
Shortly after we got married, before we had children, my wife’s mother, Bonnie Linder, went through a craft program at church and made a Jesse Tree. She was already thinking about what her legacy would be. Which is a beautiful part of the story that I love, how it’s woven into our family.
The Jesse Tree is a daily walk through the Bible, studying the family tree of Jesus. The tree is made out of felt, and each day has a felt piece. For example, one of the first days is an apple for Adam and Eve. Then there’s Noah’s Ark and the tree continues all through the advent following the lineage of Jesus. Each have Velcro on the back of them, so you can stick them to the tree. The tree is pretty big. Each piece you stick to the tree is probably about as big as the palm of my hand. You’re celebrating the advent season, and it’s a countdown to Christmas.
It’s been beautiful. It started out with our kids. We would tell them the story, and now it’s gotten to the point that we ask them to tell the story. It’s a wonderful way for our family to get our hearts and minds ready for the season, build a legacy of faith in our family, and recognize what the season is really about.
It’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. I love it. It’s become such an important part of what we do. This Christmas season looked like it was going to be so hectic that we had the kids make Christmas bucket lists. We asked, what are all the things we’ve got to make sure we do to get ready for Christmas this year. One of the first things they said was, do the Jesse Tree! (Reminder these kids are 17, 14 and 12.)
The Jesse tree makes a difference for our family. It’s not just about a family legacy, it has become a key component of our faith legacy as well.
Sometimes we’re so focused on the future that we don’t take time to look back. Legacy is just as much about the past as it is about the future. Taking that time to slow down and ask, where have we come from? Who started this and why? Why is this important?
I pray that our legacies of these two trees will inspire you to think about your own legacy. Merry Christmas to you all!
How do you think about traditions and the things that you can do for your family that will last?