On Christmas Eve in 1936, Santa Claus made a personal visit to the
Johnson home in Irvington. Much to the delight of Billy Johnson,
then age 2, the jolly old man himself handed out presents before
leaving for the remainder of his annual world-wide trip. As the
Johnsons expected, the surprise created an enchanting, lifelong
memory for Billy. What they couldn’t anticipate was that a Johnson
family Christmas tradition was also born that night.
Every year since then-for 64 years-Santa has made a personal visit
to the Johnson home.
“It started small, but has grown into an event with 60-70
people,” says Johnson’s daughter Sara Clark, also of
Irvington. Clark and her sister Stephanie now look forward to the
event each year, joining virtually every relative on their
father’s side of the family for the Christmas Eve tradition. That
now includes their father’s 92-year-old Aunt Mary Bandy, the
families of their father’s first cousins, Phil Lockart and Judy
Lockart, as well as the families of his sisters Peggy Jo Sears,
Linda Sue Ross, and Mary Ellen Smith.
“It is always on Christmas Eve and always at my dad’s
home,” Clark says. “We get there about 6:30 p.m., and
Santa arrives about 8 p.m. Everyone brings food, and we spend time
This time with family is the best part of the tradition for Clark,
who merrily insists that she still believes in Santa Claus. For
the children, Santa’s appearance is hard to beat. Each year, one
of Santa’s helpers dressed in a Santa suit comes in through the
back door (there’s a fire in the fireplace) carrying large cloth
sacks brimming with toys. He calls out each name, hands out the
presents personally, and then enjoys a homemade treat of cookies
or candy before leaving.
“My best memory of this tradition was when I was about 6 or
7,” recalls Clark. “That year, I received a big
dollhouse with all the furniture. I was thrilled.” And
although it takes more preparation today, the event is pure
pleasure to the Johnson family, young and old alike.
“We are big on family,” says Clark. “This just
gives us another good reason to get together.”
Traditions such as this are an important part of the holiday
My family also has a special Christmas tradition. At my parents’
home, this includes a Christmas tree designed to look like Frosty
the Snowman. Each Christmas, Frosty is the first thing you see
when you enter the house-a kind of personal welcome home.
White lights dance over his body (the tree), which is accented
with snowball and icicle decorations. The kitchen broom becomes
his and is gingerly placed between the branches near a hand that
is made from a red potholder. Frosty has his own hat, his own
scarf, and his own nose made from a Styrofoam cone covered in
burlap. His head-made of an inflatable ball covered in white
batting and decorated with felt eyes, eyebrows, and mouth-is
re-done each year, giving him a slightly different appearance from
year to year.
The snowman tree has become something we all look forward to,
something that makes Christmas special and different at our house.
In other words, it has become a family tradition.
For some families, the tradition is a special meal or a sweet treat. For others
it is the reading of a special book or simply the opportunity to be together.
Communities have traditions, too, especially during the holidays.
In Bowling Green, one of the traditions also involves a Christmas
tree, but this one is made of people. The Living Christmas Tree at
Glendale Baptist Church has been a part of the celebration since
“We just love Christmas here and wanted to tell the greatest
story ever told,” says pastor Richard P. Oldham. “We
were going to build a platform for our singers and thought it
would be a novel thing to be shaped like a Christmas tree.”
Since that time, singers have lined up on the multi-tier platform
for an annual celebration of Christmas. Lights and special effects
have been added over the years. Sometimes there is a drama with
the annual event, while in other years the celebration is
primarily music. The size of the tree varies as well, sometimes
containing as many as 100 people, other times as few as 50.
“The tree is triangular shaped so it points to heaven,”
Oldham notes. “There is a cross on top, and people in it.
Above the tree is a circular ball that represents the world. At
the beginning of the service we turn all the lights out except
tiny blue lights indicating creation. A narrator reads the story
of Jesus as the lights burn and the ball turns around. At the
bottom of the tree, we have two other tiers where children stand
and sing children’s songs.”
This year the event is at 7 p.m. on December 10, 11, 12, 13, and
17 at the church on Roselawn Way. There is no cost for admission
and no need for reservations. Call (270) 781-1708 for more
Now in its third year, the entire town of Russell is lit up with
luminary candles from the riverfront to Main Street at the
Illumination Celebration. Last year, in fact, the town lit some
This year, the candles will be lit at dusk (5 p.m.- 5:30 p.m.) on
December 16. Festivities include a special one-hour Christmas
program at the Mead United Methodist Church that features music by
Afterward, Santa will be at the newly renovated depot, and there
will be other holiday treats outdoors including caroling, ensemble
bands, and horse carriage rides. Downtown merchants will remain
open and many offer refreshments as well.
“I just love the music,” says Sharon Lanham, treasurer
of the Russell Civic League that sponsors the annual event.
“It really speaks to me. Then to see the kids with Santa and
on the horse and buggy, there’s nothing like it. The clippity clop
of the horses, candles lining the street, the whole thing is
For more information, call (606) 836-3121 or (888) 310-2456.
These events are just two of the many special holiday treats
planned throughout the state. Why not start your own family
tradition this year, or take part in your local community