By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Christmas is no doubt a special time in the lives of many, but everyone celebrates the holiday a little differently.
For the first family of Mississippi State University, the traditions are just getting started. University President Mark Keenum and his wife, Rhonda, took their separate family traditions and combined them when their children were born.
“Mark and I had completely different traditions growing up, so when we had kids we had to discuss how we wanted to continue those traditions. We really had to compromise and start some new ones,” Rhonda Keenum said. “The whole Christmas-with-kids thing is all very new for Mark and I, and there’s no manual for constructing a holiday tradition, but we’ve made our own.
The Keenums and their children spend Christmas Eve in Booneville with Rhonda’s family before heading back to Starkville for the church services. When they return to the president’s home, the children are given one present to open, which is always a pair of pajamas, a tradition passed down from Rhoda’s family.
On Christmas morning, Rhonda makes an extra-special breakfast casserole for her picky little eaters. It has a section with just cheese, one with just bacon and one with just sausage for each of the 7-year-old triplets, and a section with all three for little 5-year-old Torie.
Mayor Parker Wiseman and his family make it a point to spend Christmas together every year. But since he was a child, they have had one very unique tradition in the form of an nontraditional Christmas tree ornament.
“When I was growing up, I had to have a toenail removed around Christmas time. The doctor asked me if I wanted to keep it, and I said yes. So I took it home and we made a Christmas tree ornament out of it,” he said. “And it still hangs in my parents’ house on their tree today.”
The mayor and his wife are expecting their first child and while he said he hopes his children won’t have to carry on the toenail tradition, there are others he’d like to pass down.
“I think family is certainly the most important thing. I would want them to carry on the tradition and the importance of gathering with the family during the holiday season,” Wiseman said.
Over the years, traditions become memories. Carole McReynolds Davis has fond memories of picking out and decorating the family Christmas tree as a child growing up in the 1940s.
“Our Christmas tree each year was cut somewhere out in the country not far from the MSU campus along the road sides as we slowly creeped along in our old blue and white Oldsmobile searching for just the perfect tree. The one we always discovered just seemed to be waiting to become adopted by the McReynolds family. Our Christmas tree every single year was struggling to live and merely hanging on to the public road side, when we would suddenly spot the tree,” she said. “I can still see the big old Christmas light bulbs that you screwed into their spots suddenly making red, green, blue, yellow, and white lights giving the whole tree and the room a simple magical glow of colors. We added one by one a single long ice-cycle that we attempted to carefully place on each branch. On the very tip-top of our tree, we put a big silver star. It immediately leaned forward just clinging on for its dear star life!”
McReynolds Davis said she and her younger brother would often get up in the very early hours and Christmas morning to peak at the gifts Santa Claus left under the tree just for them.
The traditions that a family shares can range from the food you eat to the special gifts Santa brings just for you to some rather unusual decorations, but they are what makes Christmas so special.