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When completed, Tammy and Craig Carlisle’s Christmas jigsaw puzzle for 2006 will depict a tree with gifts beneath it, window, wreath and stockings.
Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer
When completed, Tammy and Craig Carlisle’s Christmas jigsaw puzzle for 2006 will depict a tree with gifts beneath it, window, wreath and stockings.

Christmas
piece by piece

Working holiday jigsaw puzzle is Carlisle family tradition

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

When it’s time to take a breather from the many programs and parties of the holiday season, one Decatur family has a plan: they put together a jigsaw puzzle each Christmas.

The Rev. Dr. Craig Carlisle, pastor of Central Park Baptist Church, wife Tammy and daughter Jordan have made this an annual tradition for 10 years.

“It gives us the opportunity to spend time together,” he said. “And each year, when we pull out the puzzles from the previous years, it reminds us of the special times we have had together around Christmas.”

They usually work on a 1,000-piece puzzle, but one of their early ones was 500 pieces, and their largest was 2,000 pieces. They often glue the completed puzzles together and have them framed, then store them until it’s time to hang them around the house as holiday decorations.

Christmas candy is featured on a puzzle in the kitchen, while dozens of look-alike Santas — one of the biggest challenges because of the duplication of colors and outlines — takes another wall.

The Nativity puzzle is the Carlisle family’s favorite.
The Nativity puzzle is the Carlisle family’s favorite.
A Nativity puzzle, finished in 2004, occupies a place of honor in the dining room, where gold matting accents the cutout style.

It’s hard to find a puzzle with a religious scene, said Carlisle, who usually orders them from Bits & Pieces or other online sources. The family’s Christmas tree is full of churches and church scenes they have collected, but they haven’t seen a church on a puzzle, so they’ve had to be content with all kinds of Santas and snowmen, along with the manger scene.

A Santa holding a bag of gifts was their first puzzle, “and it got us hooked,” recalled Tammy. It was one of the items offered during a Sunday school party auction to benefit missions in about 1995, and she decided she wanted it. They had the high bid, took it home and started this long-running tradition.

“You used to be able to walk into any Hallmark store and find a puzzle, but you can’t any more,” said Tammy. With puzzles averaging around $16.95, it’s a fairly inexpensive hobby, “except when you go get it framed,” she said. They frame only the ones with scenes they like, sometimes passing puzzles on to friends.

Their current 20x20-inch, 1,000-piece puzzle is a new “glow-in-the-dark” style featuring a Christmas tree with gifts, window, wreath and stockings, and they are curious about how it will look when it’s done. “Some are pretty on the box but not as pretty when you finish them, but the Nativity puzzle didn’t disappoint and is special to us,” Carlisle said.

Meanwhile, they put the pieces of the puzzle out on their dining table around Thanksgiving and usually finish just before Christmas, except for the larger, more difficult puzzles. With the 2,000-piece puzzle, their dining table, a card table, the box lid, a buffet and other nearby surfaces were covered up for weeks, and it took twice as long as usual, or about eight weeks. Right now, that 4-foot framed puzzle featuring all types of snowmen hangs above their sofa.

This year they got started late. “This may be a New Year’s puzzle,” he said.

Working a jigsaw puzzle is usually a “come-and-go” activity, Carlisle said, and you have to be in the mood for it. “You might spend an hour at a time, tops, and then you walk away from it. If you sit there too long, you won’t have much success; it’s better to go off and come back to it later,” Carlisle said.

Sometimes he’ll walk by the table as he heads to his office, look at pieces and find a few matches. Tammy may do the same when she arrives home from her job as a social worker at Decatur General Hospital. “And our daughter will come stand there for a minute and see a couple of matches,” he said.

This jolly Santa puzzle was the first worked by Tammy and Craig Carlisle and daughter Jordan 10 years ago.
This jolly Santa puzzle was the first worked by Tammy and Craig Carlisle and daughter Jordan 10 years ago.
“My wife is the color expert — she can look at the pieces and quickly find the colors that go together,” he said.

Jordan, now 17, has grown up with this tradition that began when she was 6. While she’s about to outgrow it, she still gets the honor of putting in the last piece of the puzzle. And then they are finished for the year.

“We don’t work on puzzles all year long — we only do one at Christmas,” said Carlisle. “When you finish it and the challenge is over, you go through a few days of withdrawal, and then you get back to your normal schedule and you don’t miss it.” It can be a kind of therapy to get other things off your mind, however.

“You usually have a little more time off during the holidays to spend working puzzles,” Tammy said.

Like many other hobbies, it’s an old-fashioned activity that could make a comeback. “We’ve influenced some other families to try this,” Carlisle said, including Tammy’s sister, who now makes it an annual event at her house in Georgia, too.

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