Daily photos by John Godbey|
Each member of the Johns family has several favorite gift ornaments on their Christmas tree. Clockwise, from bottom, are Sidney, David, Abbey, Gretta and Wyatt Johns. Until the children are older, however, boxes of delicate ornaments will remain in the attic.
on every bough
Johnses’ tree filled with treasured family ornaments
By Patrice Stewart
Holiday ornaments can bring back memories, as well as decorate the Christmas tree.
Gretta Voss Johns of Decatur grew up with the family tradition of receiving ornaments each Christmas from her parents, a grandmother and two aunts.
By the time she married David Johns on New Year’s Day 2000, she had an ornament collection large enough to decorate more than one tree. And why go to a store to buy shiny balls when you have teddy bears and snowmen and Santas, each carefully inscribed with a different year of your life?
“As a child, these ornaments were not very meaningful, but as I got older, I came to anticipate my yearly ornament,” she said. “What would it look like? Would it be related to something I liked that year, such as Barbie, or music, or trips we have taken?”
Johns, 29, said when she married, her new mother-in-law wondered why she already had plenty of tree decorations. She liked the idea when she was told about the tradition, so she joined in, too, and gave David a Santa for his first ornament to add to their collection.
“When David and I celebrated our first Christmas together in 2000, we had a beautiful 6˝-foot tree filled with those treasured family ornaments from my family members,” she recalled. Later they became even more meaningful.
“My grandmother, Dot Latham of Hulaco, passed away three years later, and the Christmas after her death, I had wonderful memories of times with her as I placed the special ornaments from her on my tree,” Johns said. A lot of them had her handwriting on them, because she wrote the year and signed them “Gran Dot,” so taking a look at those ornaments fills Johns with nostalgia.
Today, Johns still gets annual ornaments from her parents, Judy and Charles Voss of Decatur, and aunts, Pat Butler of Fairview and Charlotte Latham of Atlanta — and her husband and three children do, also. Abbey, 5, Sidney, 3, and Wyatt, 19 months, are quickly building their ornament collections, because they are receiving them from quite a few relatives.
In fact, her grandmother’s three children, seven grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren will get together for an ornament swap Dec. 30.
“My Aunt Pat already told us she got Lenox china ornaments this year, and I can’t wait to see them,” said Johns. Her Aunt Charlotte has given her a lot of Nativity ornaments.
Gretta Johns’ mother, Judy Voss, painted these Santas and snowman to keep busy while her husband Charles was serving in Vietnam.
Among Johns’ treasured keepsakes are her stocking, Winnie the Pooh and “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from 1977, a poinsettia her grandmother cross-stitched in 1980, a piano ornament her parents gave her to mark her prowess in playing, a collection of mini-ornaments cross-stitched by her mother and others she painted to pass the time in 1978 while Gretta’s father was serving in Vietnam.
Then there’s the snowman her sister brought her from China; her “Friends 2005” ornament from Decatur Baptist friend Bethaney Tessitore; the “Our First Christmas” ornament with the names Gretta and David; some she picked out in Christmas shops on family trips to Florida and Gatlinburg; and a Santa with a chimney “that has been glued back together multiple times.”
Sidney said her favorite is the glamorous Barbie doll ornament that actually belongs to her sister Abbey. Sidney’s collection includes a baby rattler, a teddy bear and a Tigger.
Abbey has long been fascinated with her miniature snowman ornament, and she also has a baby carriage and train cars from her early years. Her parents also gave “our little princess” a Disney princesses ornament.
The children have given their dad a Dr. Seuss “Hop on Pop” ornament and a “Toy Story” Woody riding a horse, because he loves Western movies (thus the name Wyatt for their son).
“I think it creates a lasting memory for your children and a legacy that lives on after you’re gone,” said Johns.
“David and I have continued this tradition with our children, and on Christmas Eve they love opening their special ornaments that reflect their interests that year.
“It is our hope that one day they will share the same memory-filled Christmases as they fill their trees with these ornaments.”
With three young ones around, time is at a premium these days. “I tell David we don’t have to decorate the rest of the house — just get my tree up,” she said.
And while their children are so young, several boxes of the more delicate treasured ornaments remain in the attic, because she cannot handle the idea of them being broken.
Putting up a Christmas tree is more than just a time of decoration for them, she said.
“It is a time of reflection, of memories and a wonderful feeling of being loved by those who have given you those special ornaments all these years.”
Her husband said that when he looks at their tree, he sees their family and not just a holiday tree.
“It’s deeper than Christmas veneer, because each of my kids is represented on our tree, and it creates a warmth in my heart during the holidays.”
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