A Stockingful of History

A few years ago our family felt the need to collect materials for writing a family history. About the same time, we also realized that we did not need any more gadgets or toys to be put on shelves or in closets, only to be forgotten.

This helped us decide that the adults in the family would not buy Christmas gifts for each other; instead, we would use the time we would have spent shopping to write a chapter of family history. Over the years, we have collected many informative and memorable chapters of history.

Each fall we decide on a topic, and each person writes his recollections and feelings about the subject. Some are brief essays, while others are longer histories, complete with photos and drawings. Topics have included homes we have lived in; school experiences; family vacations and camping trips; memories of past Christmases; jobs and careers; and Church-related experiences, including Sunday School, Primary, seminary, missions, Church callings, and testimonies.

One year we declared a “free” topic, and family members wrote on a subject of their choice. I am a musician, so I wrote about my teachers, my memories of playing in recitals, and my experiences as a performer and teacher.

We make copies of these chapters for each family member; we also mail copies to those who will not be home for the holidays. On Christmas morning, instead of opening store-bought gifts, we enjoy reading excerpts from our histories and reminiscing.

This tradition not only gives us a chance to reflect on the many varied experiences we have had, but it also ties together the history of the entire family. Each person reports the same event in a slightly different way, and some recall incidents others have overlooked.

This practice has become a cherished family tradition. Each of us now has a large three-ring binder full of personalized family history. Preparing it is enjoyable and far more rewarding than fighting crowds to buy gifts. Although our binders cost little, they have become prized possessions that mean more than a purchased gift ever could.James Welch, Santa Barbara, California

The Gift of Tradition

My husband, Terry, and I spent a lot of hours preparing last year’s Christmas gift to our three sons. The result turned out to be an exciting new family tradition.

Because we wanted to learn more about our ancestors, we decided to study their Christmas traditions and celebrations, put the information in booklet form, and give it to our children for Christmas. In this way, we felt, we could weave some of our ancestors’ cultural heritage into our own Christmas celebrations—and thus come to know our ancestors better.

Using our pedigree charts, we made a list of our ancestors and where they came from. Terry’s ancestors were Danish, Norwegian, Swiss, and Scottish; mine were Cherokee, English, French, German, and Scottish. We decided to begin with our Danish ancestors and their traditions.

The public library supplied excellent reference books about Denmark and its celebrations, costumes, flag, and recipes, as well as maps and ideas for decorations. With the aid of the periodical guide index in our meetinghouse library, we also found items about Denmark in the Friend, the Ensign, the Church News; in old copies of the Children’s Friend and the Relief Society Magazine; and in lessons about Denmark in past Primary and Relief Society manuals.

Imagine my delight at finding a recipe for aebleskiver in the Children’s Friend! Another idea about how to illustrate family stories came from the Ensign.

With this information, we created a 33-page book that included a short introduction, a map of Denmark with our ancestors’ places of birth circled, a national flag for the children to color, a Jesperson (the spelling was later changed) family history, a short history of Danish costumes, various Danish Christmas customs, recipes, directions for traditional Danish crafts, and suggestions for further reading. We also included two flannelboard figures, representing great-grandfather Hans and great-grandmother Marinda Ipson Jesperson, along with instructions to write a story using the family history and these figures.

The project was such a success that we plan to give a copy of the booklet to my husband’s parents, brothers, and sisters. Each year from now on, we plan to feature a new ancestral country and to incorporate at least one of that country’s traditions into our family Christmas celebrations. I can hardly wait for this Christmas, when we plan to “tour” Scotland!Bonnie Jasperson, Heber City, Utah

Our Christmas Tree Symbols

The Lord frequently uses symbols to teach us of his mission and his relationship to us. Several years ago in Relief Society, a friend of mine used simple gold paper cutouts to present some of these symbols as “symbols of Christ’s Christmas tree.” I was impressed with how effectively these symbols could be used to teach the true meaning of Christmas. Our family now has such a tree each year—with new symbols added each Christmas.

Decorating the tree this way is a lot of fun. We read the scriptures and determine what symbols the Lord has used in his teachings and parables, and then represent them with pictures and realistic miniatures. My grandchildren like the challenge of identifying each symbol and its meaning.

Our tree represents not only the life and mission of Christ, but also the plan of salvation. We begin with a large blue Christmas ball with a picture of the Christus on it—representing Christ as Lord of the universe. We use a clear white ball with a light inside to represent the light of Christ, a small gold crown to show Christ is the King of Kings, silver chains to symbolize our agency, a small sword to represent truth, a small trumpet for the last days—the list goes on and on.

We started with the traditional Christmas symbols, but each year as we read the scriptures we come up with new, more creative symbols for our tree. We now have over a hundred ornaments, each of which has a special meaning to our family.

As we decorate the tree, we talk with our children and grandchildren about each ornament and what it symbolizes. We explain that the purpose of the tree is to remind us of the birth of Christ, his atonement, and his love for us—and of the promise of eternal life if we keep his commandments.Elizabeth K. Ryser, Salt Lake City, Utah

[illustrations] Illustrated by Lapine/Overy