Christmas cheer arrives early

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Clockwise from top right: Daniel Hall, his daughters, Gwendolyn, 5, Jocelyn, 9, Evelyn, 11, and wife, Rebekah, pose for a portrait in front of their home in Jasper on Wednesday. The family started putting up Christmas lights weeks ago. “It’s fun to be creative and try out different things every year,” Daniel said of the holiday decorations.


As Jessica Miller watched her 8-year-old daughter, Tenley, put ornaments on the Christmas tree, she realized it was like watching a mini version of her grandmother. Tenley would step back from the tree, cock her head, put her hands on her hips and then head back in to fluff the branches again.

“It was bittersweet,” Jessica said. “It was just like her.”

Jessica's grandmother died of COVID-19 complications this summer. This is the first year the family decorated without her since before Jessica and her husband, Jason, had kids and moved to Ireland.

Even last Christmas season, when her grandmother was in a nursing home, Jessica would show her pictures of the decorations when she visited. Grandma would always tell her something to fix — there’s too much red in this area, or this stocking is crooked, she’d say.

This year, grandma’s tree has been up in Tenley’s room since early November. Jason usually has a rule that the trees can’t go up before Thanksgiving, but this year felt different.

“He got home from work and walked in and said, ‘It’s not Thanksgiving,’” Jessica said. “I said, ‘I know, but this year sucks.’”

Those who celebrate Christmas have debated for decades over the ideal time to decorate. Some say it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Others wait until December or even the week of Christmas.

But with the pandemic, 2020 has been the hardest year of some people’s lives. For people like Jessica, something as simple as setting up a Christmas tree a few weeks early can spark joy during a dark time.

An inflatable angel and snowman sit in Daniel Hall’s front yard in Jasper on Wednesday.

Some people, such as the Hunter family in Jasper, think every day of the year is a good day to be in the Christmas spirit. The Hunters have had their tree up since September 2019.

Ty Hunter said it was his wife Hayley’s decision. Any time there’s a chill in the air, he said, it triggers something Christmas-related in her mind.

“My wife gives no cares on how early you decorate for Christmas,” he said. “She’s a chronic violator of all Christmas protocol.”

After Christmas passed last year, the Hunters chalked the first few weeks up to laziness. Then a month became two months, and the tree still stood. Then the pandemic hit, and the family decided it needed the extra pick-me-up.

“The stay-at-home order happened and it turned into a reminder of better times,” Ty said. “So we just kept it up.”

Both Ty and Hayley have had COVID-19, so they know they have to be careful this holiday season. Celebrations won’t be the same, but at least they’ll have their Christmas tree — even though half the lights are burned out now — to enjoy as a family.

Jasper resident Kenyon Vincent usually prefers to wait until at least December to put up his family’s tree in their Jasper home.

When he had to quarantine this month after coming into contact with someone with COVID-19, though, Vincent used the extra time at home to surprise his wife, Brittney, and decorate early.

“When you’re stuck at home you just sit around like a sloth,” he said. “I was bored, so I figured I could at least do this for my wife and make her happy.”

Kenyon’s wife and their three daughters like to put up ornaments together, and the family already has almost all their gifts wrapped, too.

“It gives us something to look forward to,” Kenyon said. “This year has not been fun … We wanted something a little more positive.”

As Jessica decorated this month, she thought the same thing.

She always thought she was her grandmother’s favorite — “my Jess,” she’d always call her. But now, thinking back on it, she’s realizing a lot of people probably thought that because she was always so cheery.

Christmas this year is going to be tough without her grandmother, she said. But if there’s anything she’s learned from her, it’s that there’s always something to be thankful for.

“Despite all the negativity, we still have our family,” Jessica said. “Despite COVID, we’re thanking the Lord for everything we have. That’s something she would’ve wanted.”

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