Westward Ho! Karla Shopoff’s loved ones sit beside her, tucked under a heavy blanket, as a horse-drawn sleigh carries them through a snowy valley. They pass hundreds of elk that have come down from the mountain to feed at the National Elk Refuge. As snow falls, she takes a deep and thankful breath.
For years, Karla, her husband Bill, and their three sons have spent Christmas in this wintry Wyoming paradise. “Jackson Hole is the prettiest place on earth,” claims Karla. Her extended family joins them there for a week-long celebration. Eleven years ago, Karla’s father set out to build a home where everyone could gather together during the holidays. He picked Jackson Hole, and his choice was an immediate hit. Karla’s three siblings bring their families. The Shopoffs’ sons look forward to meeting up with their cousins for skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing. “We didn’t grow up around aunts and cousins, and neither did our sons,” Karla says. “The home dad built in Jackson Hole grounds us. It's become our family home.” Twenty-six-year-old Scott, 23-year-old Grant, and 20-year-old Chase bond with their three cousins — all males — through outdoor recreation. After skiing on Christmas Eve, the six boys meet other family members at a rustic log church. Following a Catholic church service, they share pizza and break out board games. Time together gives family members memories that are more precious than store-bought gifts. Since getting here is expensive, the kids give coupons redeemable for leaf blowing services or a pancake breakfast. Karla and her siblings treat the entire group to movies or a sleigh ride. “We keep the focus on multi-generational activities that everyone can enjoy together. Even if we didn’t have Jackson Hole, we wouldn’t do an overblown Christmas with lots of gifts.” Three years ago, Karla’s dad passed away. But her mother carries on the tradition. “Dad would have wanted us to continue getting together there,” says Karla. “It's a tribute to him.”A Home In Miniature
Eleven-year-old Lauren Ledger and her mom Cindi make time each December to deck the halls of a traditional-style wooden dollhouse they have in the den of their Midtown home. The hours they spend wrapping miniature garland and tiny gifts adds joy to their holiday season.
Inside the two-foot tall dollhouse go tiny stockings, a Nutcracker doll, a Christmas tree, even string lights and garlands. Lauren always sets out a copy of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on the table
and a gingerbread house in the kitchen. Her dollhouse family even has a tiny turkey for a Christmas Eve feast. Lauren peers at the scene: four children are gathered beside the miniature Christmas tree. Lauren is an only child, and the dollhouse children are rather like imaginary siblings to her. “It’s almost like I have two lives,” she says. Lauren and her mom started their holiday tradition four years ago. Lauren received the dollhouse for her 7th birthday. Initially, she spent more time playing with dolls but now, “it’s all about the decorating. It’s something that we love to do together,” says Cindi, a former interior designer. As they share inspiration, they’re also creating a family heirloom Lauren will be able to pass down to her children. The pair use whimsy and imagination to give the dollhouse seasonal cheer. They find miniatures online or at craft stores but prefer to make items themselves. Lauren sets a dining room table with fancy napkins made from thrift store fabric. To make a wee bed for an elf, she wraps red and green fabric around a matchbox. When Santa visits, he finds cookies made from clay. One year, a porcelain doll made to look like Lauren herself, arrived. Each season, Lauren surprises her dollhouse family with new decorations. This year, a cross-stitched portrait of Santa will soon hang over the fireplace. Lauren includes the dollhouse family on her Christmas list. She has a toy boat for baby brother, crayons and a coloring book for baby sister, and paper dolls for big sister. After opening her own presents, Lauren peeks in on the mini-Ledgers. Beaming, she wishes them the merriest of holidays.Birthday Tree Babies born at Christmastime must hitch a ride on tailwinds of Santa’s sleigh. Andrea Whitfield celebrates three family member’s birthdays during the busy holiday season. Her niece was born on
December 21st, her mother’s birthday is on Christmas Eve, and her own daughter arrived on December 26th. “My mother joked that my grandmother led her to the Christmas tree and said, ‘Pick out your birthday presents.’” As Alana approached her second birthday, the Collierville mom found a way to honor her daughter’s special day. She started decorating a birthday tree. The tree in Alana’s room assures the 10-year-old that her day won’t be forgotten. “The birthday tree makes her feel special in the midst of Christmas chaos,” says Andrea. “I put her birthday gifts under the tree and use birthday-themed wrapping paper rather than holiday paper.” The birthday tree reflects Alana’s spirit and personality. Alana loves to dance, so there’s a ballerina ornament on the tree. Her mom recently added an ornament that represents her new interest in Girl Scouts. There’s also a purple dinosaur on the tree. Embarrassed, she confesses she was once crazy about Barney. “But I like to see ornaments that remind me of when I was a baby.” Alana’s favorite ornament highlights the Christmas of 2001. The ceramic piece shows a pregnant woman dressed in a Great Expectations sweater. Alana arrived that year. Andrea’s favorite ornament looks like a present. Inside is Alana’s photograph. Since Andrea’s niece, Ella, was born five days before Alana, the girls’ grandmother, Mimi (born on Christmas Eve), started a birthday lunch tradition to honor her granddaughters. The three drop their shopping and festivities for a few hours and share a meal. “We don’t really talk about our birthdays,” says Alana. “We just talk about girl stuff.”