The ornaments they hang on their trees year after year may be handmade or store bought but each one brings a memory of someone or something from their past.
BRENDA MILLER of York Township has collected what she calls "a very eclectic mix" of ornaments over the years.
Miller is a retired teacher and many of the ornaments on her tree are reminders of the children who filled her classroom for 35 years.
"A lot of them are teddy bears because the children knew I liked teddy bears," she said.
Whales are another of her favorite animals, so there are some of those, too.
Some are handmade by the children or their moms or grandmothers, or bought at a craft sale, others are store-bought; but each is special in its own way.
"I saved them all, all of the ornaments the kids gave me through the years, and I put them on the tree," she said.
Next there are the ornaments her children, now grown, received as children. Some they received in Sunday school, others they made using lots of glue and glitter. One ornament includes a photo of her children, taken when daughter Tracey was 7 years old and son Kenneth was 2, and there is one of a stuffed mouse, part of a story about a Christmas mouse.
"He hangs there every year," Miller said.
The most recent additions are those she and her husband, David, have collected in their travels.
"I began buying an ornament everywhere we went," and they include a polar bear from a trip to Canada, a snow globe with a ship as a reminder of a cruise and yet another that is a reminder of a trip to Tennessee and Opry Land.
The oldest is the paper angel that tops her tree each year and it, too, represents a special memory.
"When my husband and I were married 43 years ago we didn't have much in the way of decorations, so our first Christmas we bought this paper angel at Jamesway in
This year there are two Christmas trees in the Miller home, both filled with memories.
TEACHER SUE BARNHART of Codorus Township also decorates her Christmas tree with ornaments from her students, with those made by her three children and still others that go back to her own childhood.
"I do have quite a collection of ornaments that I have received from students and hang on the tree each year. I labeled them with the year and the student's name. I fondly remember each child as we decorate our tree," she said.
"I also treasure the ornaments that my own children have made in school over the years and they each have their own special box of ornaments that they enjoy 'unwrapping' each year," she added.
The tree is topped with a crocheted angel that Barnhart bought at a craft show during a shopping trip with her mother.
"We used it on our family tree when I was at home and then took it with me when I got married," she said.
Then there is that special tree that brings back loving memories of her grandmother, the late Augusta Bortner.
"As a child I remember Grandma's silver tree that she put up every year with a fence around it. I always thought it was kind of odd to have a silver tree, but all these years later I so wish that I had bought that tree at her sale, 19 years ago," Barnhart said.
That silver tree is especially fitting since Sue and Kevin Barnhart and their children, Abbey, Matthew and Jacob, live in the house in the Village of Neimans in Codorus Township where her grandparents Lewis and Augusta Bortner, made a home for their 13 children.
"There are so many family traditions that the Bortner family started down on the farm and we still continue today. I am so grateful for my family and the traditions that we still have," Barnhart said.
Barnhart grew up in Glen Rock with the tradition of the carol singers and, for her, "Growing up in Glen Rock, Christmas has always been a special time.
4-H EDUCATOR MARY JO KRAFT'S memories are tied to old family ornaments and keepsakes and to the young 4-H members who create ornaments from some unusual items.
"I have a number of ornaments that are handed down through the family. I have cookie-cutter ornaments the kids cut out and colored when they were little, and I have ornaments made by my mother and mother-in-law that are very special. My mother made candy canes, bells and other things from beads and I have a set of the Nativity that my mom made from clothes pins," Kraft said.
The Kraft family continues to observe another family tradition, which is "the very Pennsylvania Dutch/German tradition we have at our house," she said. "Years ago, the parents would hang a dill pickle in the tree somewhere and the first kid to locate it would get an extra gift. I still hide a dill pickle in the tree, but now I use an ornament instead of the real thing."
Her daughter, Rijelle, decorates her tree mostly with peace signs and symbols, with a few other ornaments tossed in, and the members of the Wildlife Watchers 4-H Club make ornaments from natural materials, she said.
"The kids use some at home, but also use lots of them to decorate their tree at Christmas Magic at John Rudy Park every year," Kraft said.
VICTORIA MANTON of York sees decorating her tree each year as a snapshot in time, with memories of family and friends displayed for all to enjoy.
With the birth of her first grandchild in 1984, Manton began decorating her Christmas tree with family photos along with other special things, "like my father's wedding and military rings, tied with a bow, a picture of my husband's childhood home decorated for Christmas, an old glass ball that hung on my tree when I was a child," Manton wrote in response to a request for this story.
There was also a knitted pair of ice skates made to be worn as a holiday pin. Her son used his lunch money to pay for the pin, bought from a classmate whose mother was making them for extra money for the holidays, she said.
In addition to those on the tree, there are more photos in a bowl for folks to look through, she wrote.
"I now have six grandchildren and one great-grandson. All of them head straight for the tree to see what new photos have been added each year. The old pictures of great grandparents, grandparents and kids are a very special part of our decorating. If we are having guests I also try to include a photo of them somewhere on the tree," she writes.
There is a second tree with items made by her children, she said.
She made ornaments from 60-year-old pieces of wrapping paper found in her mother's attic and makes more ornaments from paper she uses each year.
The most precious ornament of all is the one that tops her tree.
"I want to tell you about our angel on the top of the tree. It has always been a framed photo of my husband, Bud, when he played Santa in Florida. The Santa suit was too small, so he wore the pants like knickers, wore sandals and sunglasses and a good time was had by all," she said.
"My Santa Bud passed away on June 16 of this year, but will always remain the angel at the top of our tree," she said.
Try something new
SUE BARNHART added some ideas for new family traditions.
· Make an Advent chain using red and green paper, or colors of your choice, with an activity written on each link. Tear off one link a day and do that activity as a family. Some suggestions Barnhart shares are a picnic by the fireplace, a walk through your neighborhood to see the holiday lights, play a game or watch a Christmas movie together.
It is a great way to fit in family time during what can be a hectic holiday season and is a favorite Barnhart's children asked her to share with readers.
· Another ongoing tradition started when the Barnharts' first child, Abbey, was born and is something they all look forward to.
"Santa always leaves a book in their bed on Christmas Eve. When they wake up on Christmas morning, they come to our room and we all crawl into bed together and read their new books before we go downstairs to see what is under the tree," she said.
The collection continues to grow and each year, in the days leading up to Christmas, they read one of the books together at bedtime, she said.
· The family celebrates the Twelve Days of Christmas with a small gift for each of the children from Christmas Day through Jan. 6.
In keeping with that idea, each year on Christmas Day the family picks 12 different groups or organizations that could benefit from a gift and for 12 days sends a letter and a check as their way of sharing with others. The Bell Shelter, the Salvation Army and the Penn State Thon have benefited from this idea, along with local groups such as the Glen Rock Fire Company, recreation board and library.
"To me, this is what Christmas is about, sharing with our neighbors out of our abundance and hopefully our children will carry this with them as they grow up," Barnhart said.