Editor's note: Christmastime is here, and with it families throughout Columbia County will share the celebration. News-Times writers talked to residents to hear some of their special memories from Christmas.
Johnny Carr recalls the Christmas season of 2006 with a sense of pride and melancholy.
That year capped the Brookwood Elementary School music teacher's 17-year tradition of staging The Nutcracker with his pupils.
"I get a little nostalgic when Christmas comes around and we don't have Nutcracker rehearsal," Carr said.
Carr retired from teaching full-time the same year he decided to end directing the annual holiday classic.
For nearly a decade, though, their rendition of the Tchaikovsky ballet entertained thousands of area residents.
"We had done it for 17 years, and it had become a tradition in our school and the community," Carr said. "We still have people calling and asking us when we're going to do The Nutcracker again."
Carr recently relived his Nutcracker experiences while transferring movies of the show onto DVD.
"I was thinking about the kids and wondering what they're doing now," Carr said. "Some are dancing professionally. Some of them have become music teachers."
Even after two decades, Carr said, he is continually amazed by the memories associated with The Nutcracker .
"As a teacher, you always wonder what kind of impact you have on your students," he said.
"When you see them in public, it's great to hear one of them remember The Nutcracker .
"I ran into a former student last week who has graduated from college but still remembers her lines."
-- DONNIE FETTER
Although Sherryl James says she doesn't know how to play well, getting a guitar for Christmas when she was 12 tops her list of favorite Christmas memories.
After finding her parents' hiding place for the guitar, James started to play the instrument.
Unfortunately, she popped a string and didn't want her parents to know that she found it.
"So I took an adventure and rode a bus downtown to buy a guitar string. When I got there the guy at the music store asked me what string it was," James said.
Of course, she didn't know which string it was, and had to take the 90-minute bus ride back home to find out.
When she finally got the right string she had her uncle help her put it on the guitar.
Later on in life she told her parents about the incident, but at the time they didn't know about her finding the guitar, and she says it was still a joyous Christmas.
"I had been begging for the guitar for at least a year. I never really learned how to play it, but I thought it was one of the greatest things to have a guitar and to this day I still always have a guitar," James said.
Though James has taken lessons, she says she has no musical talent but her daughter found the musical talent she always wanted.
"It was the late 1960s and all the hippies playing guitars, and I just wanted one," James said.
-- Lisa Guerra
Ed Amerson can often be heard before he is seen.
The 73-year-old is a fixture at Greenbrier baseball and softball games, where he takes his seat on the metal bleachers, adjusts his Greenbrier cap and sunglasses and begins his running conversation with the umpires.
Most of the conversation is one-way.
Amerson makes known when he disagrees with a call, but most of his complaints are good-natured and often draw laughs from fans and umpires.
Amerson has followed Greenbrier athletics since the school opened. He is a longtime friend of the Holder family.
This year will be the 10th Christmas that Amerson has spent without Marian, his wife. She died in 1999.
Amerson credits Greenbrier and the Holder family for helping him overcome the loss and says his favorite Christmas memory is Rodney Holder's hiring earlier this month as Grovetown High School's football coach.
"They've just been like part of a family," Amerson said. "They're good friends, good people."
Before the games start, Amerson plants himself near the grill, where friend Derrell Postell mans the flame. Amerson buys the food, Postell prepares it and the men do their part to feed fans and raise money for the Wolfpack program. The pair cook out for baseball and softball games and sometimes for Greenbrier's standout soccer programs.
"For a team, we do pretty good," Amerson said. "We've raised a lot of money for that school."
Amerson coached local Little League during the 1960s and was among those on the league's first advisory board. He has no ties to the Wolfpack except through the Holders. His two children attended Evans, and he followed the Knights when Terry Holder coached the team. But when Holder moved to Greenbrier, so did Amerson's allegiance.
Amerson said he's still not sure what he'll do when Rodney Holder roams the sidelines at Grovetown next year. He's just pleased with Holder's move.
"That is a great Christmas present," Amerson said. "How about that?"
- Stephen Fastenau
In December 2002, Tina Dross received a Christmas present few others can claim: her first grandchild.
"We had just settled in bed for the evening when my youngest daughter awoke with a sharp pain," said Dross, the administrative assistant to the superintendent of Columbia County schools.
"With a knock on my door and the whisper of my daughter's voice as she said, 'Mom, I think it's time,' the entire house erupted into a chaotic rush to the hospital."
Alexis Brown was born in the early hours of Dec. 26.
"She was a stocking baby," Dross said. "It was so cute how they had all the babies at the hospital stuffed into stockings."
Only now is Alexis beginning to understand the implications of nearly sharing a birthday with Jesus Christ, and how that might not be a good thing in some ways.
"I think this year for the first time she realizes she's a Christmas baby," Dross said. "Right now, she feels special, because she doesn't realize she's getting cheated."
Birthday presents often become mixed with Christmas, which can devalue the significance of both special occasions, Dross said.
Alexis' family held a birthday party for her Saturday to make the event memorable.
"Usually, we wait until after Christmas to have it, but hopefully she will get to enjoy the excitement of it before the excitement of Christmas," Dross said. "We don't want her to feel like she's getting cheated."
Dross, who now has a second grandchild, 3-year-old Kaylee, nearly missed her Christmas miracle.
"Kristi and Pate (Alexis' and Kaylee's parents) had no intention of spending Christmas night with me, but I insisted," Dross said. "I didn't want it to end. I wanted to keep the day going as long as possible."
- Donnie Fetter
Most Christmas holidays have been a joyous occasion for Don Thornhill, but he can recall one Christmas memory that wasn't so full of cheer.
During the Christmas season of 1944, Thornhill's father was in Europe fighting in World War II.
Thornhill, who was 8 years old at the time, was living in a two-bedroom apartment in the small town of Wauchula, Fla., along with his mother and younger brother.
"It was really kind of a sad Christmas, per se, with my dad being overseas, and I remember I knew what was going on," said Thornhill, who served as a superintendent of Columbia County schools from 1980-82. "I knew that it was a big battle (the Battle of the Bulge), and I knew that in all probability, my dad was involved in it.
"I could tell especially from my mom's reaction. She was very worried and upset."
All of the family's furniture had been put away in storage, and Thornhill and his 2-year-old brother made decorations to hang on the Christmas tree.
"It was just a very tough time for us, and I remember we found a little Christmas tree, but we had no Christmas ornaments," he said. "We made paper chains and strung some popcorn and cut out some different little things out of construction paper, and that's how we decorated our Christmas tree," he said.
Thornhill's father returned home after the war ended in 1945.
Though that Christmas was worrisome, Thornhill said, it was still one full of love.
"All of our Christmases have always been just very happy times, and I guess that one stands out, because that's the one and only one that really wasn't so happy," he said.
- Jenna Martin
Sue Whiddon doesn't think of one particular Christmas as her favorite.
She loves them all.
"Christmas is my favorite holiday," the 103-year-old Harlem native said.
"What I like most is that it is such a sacred holiday in which families get together and worship and be thankful to God that he gave us the birth of His child that became savior to the world."
Whiddon's Christmas celebration centers around her family, including her son and daughter-in-law, her grandson and his wife, and her three grandchildren.
"We get together, the whole family," said Whiddon, who plans to enjoy Christmas dinner at her grandson's home. "We are just a very close-knit family."
Whiddon said her Christmas family tradition was to gather for worship and to enjoy being together.
Whiddon said it is the children that make Christmas so much fun.
"We have a great time watching them," Whiddon said.
"It is a joy to watch them open presents. It is just so much fun to see those children."
- Valerie Rowell
Carroll Davis has sweet memories when she recalls her Christmases.
Her earliest memory is from when she was 6. Her mother was baking several desserts at Christmastime. Family and friends were invited to share in the joyful occasion at their Phinizy home, she said.
"It was always open house at our house, and people would come, and, of course, we'd serve them cake and coffee," said Davis, who was a Columbia County public health nurse for all but three years from 1959-1984.
Inside their home stood a tall china cabinet with five shelves filled with all types of cakes, including fruitcakes, lemon cheesecakes and chocolate, coconut and jam cakes, Davis' favorite.
"I wanted what was called a jam (cake), which is a spicy cake with blackberry jam in it," she said. "She knew what each child wanted."
Davis said she, her two brothers and seven sisters all choose different cakes as their favorite.
"She baked for days," said Davis, who will turn 81 on New Year's Eve. "She really did."
She said she loved knowing their home would be filled with guests during the Christmas season.
"Back then it took love and knowing that there was someone there that cared and supported you all the way," she said.
- Jenna Martin
Debbie Welch promised her three children that when they grew up and started their own families, they could take the Christmas ornaments she has collected for their Christmas trees.
Her oldest daughter, Lauren, 26, is engaged to be married in May. Though taking all her ornaments since her first Christmas was the plan, Welch doesn't think she can part with them.
"I told them that when they got married I would box them up and they could use them on their tree, but that's not going to happen," Welch said with a laugh.
Welch has been collecting ornaments since her children's first Christmases.
"Every year they get a special ornament and they all have the 'baby's first Christmas' with their picture, and then every year they get a new ornament that follows their interest for that year," Welch said.
Welch told her daughter that she would buy her new ornaments to put on her tree, but the sentimental value was too great for her to part with the ornaments from her childhood.
"There is one, its a mouse typing on a huge monstrosity of a computer, and I can remember that ornament was all she (Lauren) was interested in that year," Welch said.
For Welch's youngest daughter Jordan, 16, another family tradition came in the form of dolls.
"For me, as a little girl, Christmas equated baby dolls and which one I would get that year," Welch said.
After she became a mother, her favorite part about Christmas was seeing what doll Santa left for her little girls.
"My favorite was when my youngest daughter got a Lee Middleton doll and when we took it shopping the day after Christmas some lady walked up to her and said, 'Honey, you need to put some socks on that baby,'" Welch said.
Though Welch has traditions with all her children during the holidays, ornaments and baby dolls have always helped feed the warm feelings that come along with Christmas.
- Lisa Guerra
Michelle Wallen's favorite Christmas is just beginning.
She's already had a taste of what Christmas is going to be like with her 19-month-old daughter.
Lindsey woke up on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago to something new in the house - a lit-up Christmas tree.
"When she went to bed Friday night, there was a table and a lamp there," Wallen said. "When she came back out Saturday morning, there is this thing that is all lit up."
Lindsey's eyes got big; she pointed at the tree and squealed, "Prees," her word for "pretty," Wallen said.
"I walked out with her and just the look on her face almost made me cry," Wallen said. "This is probably my favorite Christmas so far, probably because having a little one changes everything. Watching her eyes light up, that's the best part about the whole thing."
Last Christmas, Lindsey was just 8 months old and had more fun unwrapping gifts and playing with the wrapping paper than anything else.
Now, Lindsey still enjoys the lighted tree and unwrapping the gifts underneath it because she now understands there might be something for her inside them.
But Wallen said she still loves watching Lindsey's reaction to Christmas lights around their neighborhood.
"We've gone through (the neighborhood) a couple of times at night and she has a blast," Wallen said.
Wallen and her husband, Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue firefighter Jeremy, plan to take Lindsey to the Lights of the South display near Grovetown.
But no matter what happens Christmas morning, Wallen will always remember her daughter's reaction to the tree.
"That morning was just awesome," Wallen said, "watching her eyes light up. It was like she saw Santa for the first time."
- Valerie Rowell
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