ALPENA - "It just wouldn't be the holidays without..."
How do you finish that sentence? Is it Grandma's bread pudding, or watching a college bowl game with your brother-in-law or uncle? Maybe it's a trip to a relative's place to meet the extended family on Christmas Day, or getting together with your parents and siblings to decorate the Christmas tree. Often, the strongest family tradition is just that: getting together with family.
Feather Miller said her extended family typically meets before Christmas near Battle Creek. Everyone draws a name, and gives that family member a gift. This way, everyone can meet up, then spend Christmas itself with their immediate family. Her children open one present Christmas Eve, and the rest in the morning.
News Photo by Jordan Travis
Tim Mobus shows the angel he made for one of the Christmas trees at Sunrise Mission. Every year, he and his siblings would make a new ornament for the tree, a holiday tradition he’s passed on to his own children.
"It wouldn't be Christmas if you didn't see your family," she said. "You have the usual, happy conversations and the occasional arguments that happen between certain people in everybody's family. It wouldn't be the same without that."
This year is a little different for Miller, as she spent the holiday with her fiance's family, she said. The two will likely make their own holiday traditions in the years to come.
Cal Howard gets together with his family in Southfield, he said. There's a lot of fun and joy at the gatherings, but this year will be a bit harder: his father and brother passed away within months of each other earlier this year.
"It's a hard hit on the family, but we said one thing: we will be resilient and come back stronger than before, and we'll do that with God's help," he said.
Howard's family will carry on the tradition, he said. This includes a dinner where everyone brings a dish. The menu always changes, but Howard's favorite is his mother's peach cobbler. The family also plays trivia games, watches football and plays along to Christmas music. Howard sings and plays the congas, and showed one off before a gig at a downtown tavern.
"If we couldn't sing, play the guitar and drums, we'd be lost," he said.
As families change, so do traditions. Sue Ellen Jones has 13 grandchildren, some local, others not, she said. Now that her children are out of the house and have their own families, she travels to them instead of the other way around. She likes to listen to Handel's "Messiah" in the lead-up to Christmas, and when the family gathers, it's usually for a big meal.
"The food is very important in my family," she said.
Another family gathering tradition is having one of the grandchildren, usually the youngest, dress up as Santa Claus and pass out the gifts, Jones said. The gift exchange is fun, but most of her family is less concerned with the commercial aspect of Christmas.
Joni Srebnik said her mother also travels to be with the family at Christmas. Srebnik has six grandchildren, and everyone travels to her house to open presents and eat lots of food. The menu usually consists of the traditional ham, apple salad made by her daughter, Christmas cookies and Grandma's homemade bread.
The family will also go for a drive to see the Christmas lights, Srebnik said. With such a big crowd, it takes three cars to do it.
Some traditions withstand the test of time, even major upheaval. Tim Mobus is a guest at Sunrise Mission after eight years of homelessness. As a child, he and his siblings would make a new ornament for the Christmas tree every year. One of his proudest creations was a star for the top made of pop bottles.
"It was just whatever you thought of," he said. "My sister and brother and me, we would always make something... like a little angel or a Nativity scene out of paper and cardboard."
Mobus has passed on the tradition to his children, he said, and carried it on in his own way. Atop one of the mission's Christmas trees is a paper angel he made.