Christmas Moments & Memories A Supplement to
page 2 | christmas moments & memories | family traditions
Start a family tradition: Find and Cut Your own Christmas Tree
inding the perfect Christmas tree can be lots of fun. An annual chore for some can become a fun family tradition filled with special memories, especially if your family is willing to jump off the beaten path and go searching for perfection at a Huntsville-area Christmas tree farm.
A-C Christmas Tree Farm and Mill Hollow Christmas Tree Farm have been open one weekend already and some folks have already checked out their stock. Many of them took home the tree they envisioned sitting in their living rooms throughout the holiday season. For families who visit these farms each year, cutting down the family tree becomes a tradition that can’t be replicated when buying trucked-in trees or artificial ones in a store. “This is a family experience,” said Marge Gunia, who with her husband, Dennis, runs Mill Hollow Christmas Tree Farm east of Huntsville off U.S. Highway 190. “It’s an adventure. It gets people out in the country and nature. These trees are fresh. (Customers) cut them and put them in water right away and they last. You don’t get that experience when you go to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Wal-Mart. “Would you take pictures at Wal-Mart when getting a tree? It’s just so much prettier out here,” Gunia added. Like Mill Hollow, A-C Tree Farm caters to families who are looking for a unique and exciting tree-buying experience. “You bring your family, your kids and you start a family tradition,” said Geoff Horn, who with his wife, Julie, has joined the family business that was started by Julie’s parents, Clyde and Anne Thomas. “It’s just fun to walk around here in the natural world. You get to look for and pick your tree and their variations are unlimited.” Open for business for more than 35 years now, A-C Tree Farm has many loyal customers who have been regularly taking home one of their homegrown trees. With crafts for kids, parents bring their children along to find a tree while at A-C, which is located off FM 980 on Armadillo Drive just outside Huntsville. “Kids make an ornament every year they come out here and we have a different ornament craft every year,” Horn said. “The kids get free hot chocolate, candy canes and coloring books. That kind of an experience you don’t get when you buy an artificial tree and throw it in the closet and bring it out each year. “The wholesomeness of it is just a wonderful experience,” Horn added. “It’s just fun to be out here with your family. It’s hard to find things, these days, that you can do with the whole family.” The process of taking home a tree from Mill Hollow is simple. Customers are given a price sheet that indicates how much each tree costs by whatever colored ribbon is attached to the tree. They are also given a saw to cut the tree down. “The customer takes the price sheet and goes out in the field and there are no surprises,” Marge Gunia said. “They know when they walk up to a tree, if it’s a red tree it is going to be so much money. If it’s a blue and white-striped tree it’s so much money. Then they cut it.” Customers can also get the tree cleaned and bailed for an extra $5 to make the tree easier to transport and less of a mess when it gets home. Currently at Mill Hollow, customers can choose between Leyland cypress and Virginia pine trees. The Leyland cypress trees are good for those with allergies because they have no scent and don’t shed their needles. For those who love a piney scent filling their home, the Virginia pine is a better option. The trees aren’t the only thing that attracts families to Mill Hollow. There are tons of things for kids to do, such as hayrides, natural grass mazes, tree swings, tire rolling and a tricycle course. Marge and Dennis Gunia have always intended the experience at Mill Hollow, which has been open since 1983, to be one that is family-oriented. “Families come out here and spend a lot of time,” Marge Gunia said. “I’ve had so many of our customers come up and thank me. They’re so appreciative that we do this and they all say that it’s a family tradition. Their kids love to get out in the country and explore.” Many of the Gunias’ customers continue to come back year after year. “I’ve been coming here for 20 years,” Brandon Duke said while looking for his family tree a couple of years ago. “I was 5 years old when I first came here and it has always been a family thing.” “We came here as kids, and now that we have kids we bring them here as a family tradition,” said Jennifer Harlow, who has been coming to Mill Hollow
The White family of Huntsville had a big time picking out their Christmas tree at the Mill Hollow Christmas Tree Farm in Oakhurst. Tom Waddill/The Huntsville Item
for the past 20 years. “My kids are the fourth generation of my family to come here.” Mill Hollow’s customers agreed that choosing and cutting down their own tree is much more thrilling than simply picking and purchasing one at the neighborhood grocery store. “It’s just so much better of an experience,” said Lauren Haywood. “It’s not even really about the tree. It’s more about family, but it is more special to cut down your own tree because you had to do the work.” Mill Hollow is located at 500 Palmetto Drive in Oakhurst and will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 18. For more information, call (936) 377-4044 or go to the Mill Hollow website at millhollowtexas.com. Hurt by the Texas heat and summer droughts, the Horns did a huge amount of work getting A-C Tree Farm back on track. Thanks to a new drip irrigation system, trees are growing all over the large lot at A-C Tree Farm now. A-C also has Fraser firs shipped to East Texas. Those shapely trees have become favorites of many Four-year-old Laila Medina of Oakhurst checks out a Christmas tree during a trip to the Mill of A-C’s customers, even if Hollow Christmas Tree Farm on Sunday afternoon. Medina’s mom said it’s a family Christmastime tradition to come out to Mill Hollow, which is located off U.S. Highway 190 near Waterwood. they don’t get to cut them Tom Waddill/The Huntsville Item down themselves. “We’ve purchased Fraser firs and love how it fills ing them is a cool feeling. I really love that and haven’t the house with the scent of pine throughout the gotten tired of it yet.” Christmas season,” said Richard Grimes. “We aren’t an A-C Tree Farm is open on Saturdays and Sundays artificial tree family.” until Christmas Eve from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more The Horns say they’re not in the Christmas tree information, call (936) 295-9523 or go to A-C’s business to make money. They enjoy meeting people Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ and seeing them come back every year to shop for Actreefarm/. another “perfect” tree. “There is something special about planting a seed By JP McBride ... and watching it grow,” Geoff Horn said. “It is so cool email@example.com — to plant it, nourish it, groom it and shape it and then watch people come out and get thrilled over see-
Family time | christmas moments & memories | page 3
The magic of Christmas comes alive in Huntsville
rom a demonstration of what the holidays were like in the days of Sam Houston to Santa riding on a float in the Christmas parade and even snow – yes snow – there is plenty of activities going on in Huntsville this month to celebrate the season.
One of the most anticipated events, which draws thousands of visitors from Southeast Texas is “Journey through Bethlehem,” which will be held Friday and Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Walker County Fairgrounds. The event, which was thought up by Leslie Michaelson in 2003, annually recreates the city of Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s birth thanks to the help of a number of local churches. There will be many shops to explore such as the bread shop, the bricklayer’s shop, the basket-weaving shop and fish market. There will be a wedding feast with dancing in which everyone can participate. Both nights, there will be Spanish translators and ASL signers available. The “tax” to enter “Journey through Bethlehem” is $1 per person. For more information, call (936) 291-9726. “I love it because Journey Through Bethlehem is so noncommercial. It’s so focused on the true meaning of Christmas,” Journey co-chair Robert Williams explained. “It helps me start the Christmas season in the right way. I also really enjoy the fellowship.” Before folks head out to Journey Through Bethlehem on Saturday, there are two events hosted by the City of Huntsville that will feature something for everyone. The Main Street program will have the seventh annual Downtown Christmas Fair and Winter in the Park from noon to 5 p.m. One of the highlights includes a play area filled with snow. There will also be a train ride, food and craft vendors, letters to Santa, games, entertainment and other activities. “We’re just going to have a lot of great fun for the family and for the kids,” Main Street intern Casey Janda said. “It’s a really awesome event. It’s free to the public, but we will have some activities that have a minimal cost. We want to have as many kids come out as possible and give them a safe place to have fun and to be able to celebrate the season.” Ever wonder what the holidays were like back in the days of Sam Houston? Well, Saturday folks can find out as the Sam Houston Memorial Museum will host a Houston Family Christmas from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the museum grounds. There will also be historical demonstrations, holiday refreshments and a hands-on craft project. Santa Claus will take a break from his busy schedule Saturday to be in attendance at the museum and people can bring their own cameras to take photos with him from 10 a.m. to noon. There is no admission charge to a Houston Family Christmas. For more information, contact the museum at (936) 294-1832 or visit www.samhoustonmemorialmuseum.com. The one event children have been looking forward to takes place Saturday evening as the annual Lion’s Club Christmas parade roars through downtown Huntsville at 6:30 p.m. People are invited to enjoy “Cider on the Porch” at the Wynne Home Arts Center on 11th Street at 6 p.m. to watch the parade. The public is also invited to the front porch of the Gibbs-Powell House, located at the corner of 11th Street and Avenue M, to watch the parade from 6 p.m. to the end with refreshments.
The seventh annual downtown Christmas Fair has plenty of fun activities for youngsters including a play area with real snow and train rides on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.
Here is a list of other holiday events taking place in Walker County this month:
A Wynne Home Nutcracker Nicolay Dance Works presents “A Wynne Home Nutcracker 2016” on Dec. 6-10. Children and parents, in groups of 20 or fewer, will be immersed in an intimate experience of “The Nutcracker” from the inside of the Wynne Home Arts Center in Huntsville. Attend the Christmas party, witness the battle of the Mouse King and Nutcracker and travel through the Snow Scene to the Land of the Sweets. Tickets are $25 and available online at www.nicolaydanceworks.com. Performances will take place at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. each day.
Christmas Music at First Baptist Church Everyone is invited to a night of Christmas music at Huntsville’s First Baptist Church on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. This is a free presentation of “Joy Divine.” The church choir, orchestra, handbells and some drama is included. First Baptist Church of Huntsville is located at 1229 Avenue J. For more information, call (936) 291-3441 or go to www.fbchuntsville.org.
Community Christmas Celebration The public is invited to attend the Huntsville Community Christmas Celebration on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at University Heights Baptist Church. The event will feature the Huntsville Community Choir, Belle Chason Women’s Choir, Huntsville Men’s Choir, University Heights Choir, SHSU Kats for Christ, Alpha Omega Academy Youth Choir, Huntsville Church of Christ Youth and Combination Orchestra and members of the SHSU Orchestra. Admission is free, but people are encouraged to bring canned goods or donations that will benefit the Good Shepherd Mission. For more information, call the church at (936) 295-2996. By Cody Stark firstname.lastname@example.org
The Sam Houston Memorial Museum invites everyone come to the Houston Family Christmas on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Enjoy historical demonstrations, holiday refreshments, hands-on craft project, free admission to the museum, and Santa Claus, who will be in attendance from 10 a.m. to noon in the museum rotunda for pictures.
page 4 | christmas moments & memories | family time
Reconnect with Loved Ones
s families grow, loved ones may become spread across the country due to their career, educational pursuits or general life changes. If you’re lucky enough to be near all of your loved ones this Christmas season, hopefully you have your traditions set and are ready to enjoy them together. For those hoping to reconnect with loved ones living far away, there are many ways to do so this Christmas. This time of year is perfect for re-establishing relationships with family members and starting new traditions together, and there are many ways to make this happen.
Technology Technology has closed the gap when it comes to communicating with those living on the other end of the state, country or world. All you need is a reliable Internet connection and a computer to © Fotolia
get started. There are a wide variety of online video chat tools, including Skype, that are both free and effective when it comes to connecting with faraway family members over the Internet. You will need to fill out a free account online with your email address and a password to get started. Once you have an account, you can invite others in your network to join you on the platform, and you can have live video chats with them from hundreds or thousands of
miles away. These online tools are perfect for
Christmastime. It’s easy to start a free online
reconnecting often with loved ones you hav-
blog to keep people updated or invite others
en’t seen in a while, as well as for keeping
to post what’s going on their lives.
relationships strong between grandchildren
Blogs have photo-sharing capabilities and
and grandparents who may be geographical-
are chock full of various tools that allow you
to share your content through social media or email. Look into free blog tools to get
Start a Family Blog Online websites and family blogs are pick-
started on uploading family-related news, stories and details on upcoming events. This
ing up steam as a way to keep relatives con-
is a great way to strengthen your family as a
nected throughout the year and especially at
christmas moments & memories | food
Homemade Cookies B aking and eating cookies is part of many family traditions across the country. There’s nothing like pulling a warm batch of chewy cookies fresh from the oven and enjoying them with family over a cold glass of milk.
This Christmas, start your own family tradi-
salt. Set aside. Place
tion by baking cookies for yourself and those
butter and sugar in large
around you. From gingerbread and chocolate
bowl of electric stand
chip to cinnamon swirl and macadamia nut, the
mixer and beat until light
options are endless.
in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put
Sugar Cookie Recipe
mixer on low speed, grad-
Here is a recipe for the perfect sugar cookies,
ually add flour, and beat
courtesy of Food Network and world-renowned
until mixture pulls away
chef Alton Brown.
from the side of the bowl.
Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper
and refrigerate for 2 hours.
3 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough
1/4 teaspoon salt
with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
of dough at a time from refrigerator, sprinkle roll-
1 cup sugar
ing pin with powdered sugar and roll out dough
1 egg, beaten
to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and
1 tablespoon milk
check underneath frequently to make sure it is
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling,
place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to
Sift together flour, baking powder and
chill. Cut into desired shapes, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.
Family fun | christmas moments & memories | page 5
Christmas Eve Traditions
hristmas Eve is one of the most tradition-filled days on the calendar. From wide-eyed children to full-grown adults, it is a special day that fills our bodies with anticipation and excitement. And sugar. Don’t forget the sugar.
Cookies and treats aside, it’s easy to start a Christmas Eve tradition. You just need a dash of imagination and a pinch of youthful exuberance to make it happen. Don’t forget to include lessons about the true meaning of Christmas if you’re looking to involve the kids with your traditions. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the presents, decorations and cookies, but teaching children © Fotolia
about the meaning of Christmas Make reindeer sounds on the
from a young age can be on of the
tions to pique their interest and
your holiday pajamas are the bet-
most important traditions you
test their knowledge. If they’re old
ter — and try to find matching sets
roof to excite the youngsters and
make for your family.
enough, encourage them to con-
for the family and even family pets
have Santa show up with a full sack
tinue researching the topic on
to really create some family cama-
of toys. Have Santa take a seat near
their own time — not just at
the tree and have each child come
Head To Church Many churches will have special Christmas Eve services to help celebrate the season. Carve out a couple of hours of your day or
up for their chance to sit on his lap
Many families have an elder
What’s better than a set of new
uncle or grandparent play the role
create magical memories for chil-
and receive their presents. This can
night to join your church mem-
pajamas on Christmas Eve? Watch
of St. Nick on Christmas Eve. Enlist
dren — and adults — that last for
bers in doing just that. Teach your
the holiday spirit envelop you and
the help of a willing participant and
years to come.
children the stories of Christmas
yours as you settle into your new
start the tradition in your family.
and how it has come to be such a
comfy PJs on the couch for a mara-
big part of our lives.
thon Christmas movie night.
Spend time together as a family
Find pajamas that are brightly
discussing the meaning of
colored and vibrantly designed in
Christmas over a nice meal after
church. Ask your children ques-
The more fun and outrageous
Decorate Your Community W
hen it comes to starting a new Christmas tradition this year, think about beautifying the area around you with festive decorations. Could your downtown use a bit more red and green? Are there senior citizen centers in the area in need of some Christmas spirit? There are many ways you can get involved and have a hand in decorating your community. The more people you involve, the bigger impact you can have on spreading holiday joy through the use of beautiful decorations.
Start a Group
Are you an active member of your church or community nonprofit? Do you run a business or are you a youth sports coach? If so, you likely have the manpower to start a decorations committee focused on transforming various buildings throughout your area. Recruit your organizational members, employers or players to donate their time to the cause. You’ll likely find that with a little direction and incentive, you can convince a large majority of people to help. If you aren’t part of any local groups, check with your local organizations or faith leaders to see if your help is needed. Pitch the idea of decorating specific buildings or areas around town and see what they think. Your ideas could be the springboard to the most community-centered Christmas celebration your area has ever seen. © Fotolia
Be Efficient, Creative
When the time comes to start decorating, have a plan in place to make sure things go smoothly. Coordinate with your other volunteers, giving them specific duties and goals. You should also be in close contact with the organization you’re decorating for to find out if there are certain designs, colors or themes they would like to see. Creativity is the key to pulling off great decorations. Does your downtown area have light posts along a town square or circle? Talk with your committee or city officials about hanging colorful wreaths on the posts to set the Christmas mood. Ask about setting up a nativity scene in a prominent place on the square to remind people about the true reason for the season. There are many creative ways to showcase Christmas decorations. You just have to have a strong eye for design and the initiative to make your ideas happen.
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