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Families celebrating Christmas their way

Photo by Aaron Paden / Juanita Hamill has celebrated Christmas for 15 years by displaying a nativity scene.

Photo by Aaron Paden / Juanita Hamill has celebrated Christmas for 15 years by displaying a nativity scene.

Every family is unique — and so are their Christmas traditions. Most who celebrate Christmas have the experience of opening presents of Christmas morning, but every family celebrates Christmas a little differently.

Juanita Hamill of Oak Drive in Brookhaven has been putting up a nativity scene for 15 years. Her husband, Verely, decorates the tree with Mississippi State ornaments. The immediate family — Juanita said she’s expecting about 17 — will be returning to her house from as far away as Texas to have Christmas dinner.

“I decorate the tables for Christmas,” Juanita said. “We all eat together. We all bring something and share our food. We’ve been working on what we’re going to bring all week.”

Melanie Poole has eight children, and all of them get to open just one present on Christmas Eve. They can pick any box under the tree. As long as it doesn’t say, “Do not open until Christmas.”

“Whatever they get is what they get,” Poole said. “Like, if they pick a box with a shirt in it, and another kid picks something really cool that sucks, but I let them pick it.

“We go stupid with Christmas. I wait all year for Black Friday shopping and Christmas. They have a lot of things to choose from, so they pick what they pick.”

Cassandra Hall’s family has always opened all of her presents on Christmas morning. The tree doesn’t even have presents under it until Christmas Eve.

“Most people put presents under their tree as soon as they put the tree up,” Hall said. “Santa comes and brings presents Christmas Eve, but during the whole holiday season there are a few things under there. Have you ever noticed that?”

Hall said she thought it was completely normal for presents to show up on Christmas Eve until she started going to a friend’s house as a teenager.

“There were presents all over the living room floor. I was dumbfounded. I remember when I was 10 and had recently learned that Santa had ‘helpers.’ I lay awake on Christmas Eve night unable to sleep. I could hear adults in the other room wrapping gifts and talking. That’s how I still do it every year. Christmas Eve night, I wrap everything and put it under the tree.”

Hall said she also uses a Christmas finial as a tree-topper instead of a star or angel, a tradition started by her grandmother Olene Autrey.

“To me, as a child, the spire was beautiful and unique. It reminded me of onion domes I had only seen in pictures of the most exotic cathedrals.

“[Autrey] died over 20 years ago, but I still think of her whenever I set my spire on my tree. She is the only person I have ever known to use one, until I did.”

How does your family celebrate Christmas? Send in your stories to aaron.paden@dailyleader.com.