By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Stockings still are hung by the chimney with care, trees still are decorated with cherished ornaments, and cookie baking, present wrapping and candlelight church services still fill the Christmas season.
But while much of the best survives, the 21st century Christmas, with its nontraditional families and fingertip technology, is worlds away from Christmases of the past.
This morning, Pittsburg father Aaron Hurt will use a smartphone to take photos of his children unwrapping presents and will send the images instantly to relatives living all over the country.
In some households, the old Christmas standards playing in the background will be from playlists on pocket-sized mobile devices capable of holding thousands of songs. The tunes might be on an iPod that Josie Franklin, 9, of Pittsburg, requested from Santa via a letter she emailed him on her computer.
Two households, one yearbook
And the gifts that the Rosebrough siblings — Zach, 13, and Ali, 10, of Frontenac — will give to their grandparents were created online using digital photography and layout.
“It all began with my grandmother, who showed me pictures of my dad she had in a shoe box,” said their dad, Steve Rosebrough, of the project on which he and his ex-wife, Tabitha, work together each Christmas.
“I thought a book format would be a much better way to keep track of the memories our kids are making,” he said.
Since 2007, Rosebrough, a photographer, has captured images of the children throughout each calendar year — at ballgames, school plays, the swimming pool, trick-or-treating and birthday parties.
“Then at the end of the year, I can use the computer to design a yearbook of those pictures, and Tabitha does the journaling on each page to describe what’s going on,” he said. They upload the finished product to Mpix, a locally based national photography company, which prints custom copies in a matter of days.
They also are steadfast about making their children a priority on Christmas, despite having two different households.
“We alternate each year where the kids sleep on Christmas Eve, and Santa knows where to find them,” Steve Rosebrough said. “If it’s at her house, I go over early and wait for them to wake up so both of us can be there to see them open their presents. We pretty much made it clear with the people we’re dating that we do this because it’s in the best interest of the kids.”
This year, the 21st century also is reflected in the gift Zach hopes is under the tree for him this morning: a pair of headphones for his iPod.
ASIAN ORNAMENTS AND ADVENT
Technology also plays a small role in Christmas preparations for the Franklin family of Pittsburg. Lizanne Franklin’s daughter, Josie, takes her role of writing Santa a letter on the Internet very seriously.
“You go to a certain website, and you enter your name, your age and the state you live in, and then there is a place you can list three things you would like, and then a place to ask him a question you really want to know,” Josie said. “Then you just click ‘send’ and it goes to the North Pole.”
Santa, in turn, emails a return letter.
Top on Josie’s list? An iPod.
But ever since Franklin adopted Josie and her sister, Gemma, 4, from China, she’s also made it a priority to integrate her faith so they grow up with a sense of the meaning behind the holiday.
Each evening in December, Franklin lights the Advent candles on the dining room table, and Josie selects a tiny booklet out of a monthlong Advent calendar to read aloud.
“Each booklet has a song or a verse or a story,” Josie said. “And then I hang it on the tree.”
Also on the tree are ornaments that are a nod to the girls’ heritage. Each is made of cloth and embroidered in Chinese style. They represent animals from the Chinese zodiac birth chart — a 12-year cycle, each year of which is named after a different animal that imparts distinct characteristics to those born that year.
Franklin said the family plans on hosting a Chinese student from Pittsburg State University for Christmas dinner or sometime during the holiday break, as it has in the past, and will celebrate the Chinese New Year in February.
At Aaron and Kim Hurt’s Pittsburg home, age-old Christmas traditions can be seen everywhere, from the red and white twinkling lights outside to the stockings — hand-knitted by Grandma Elma Hurt — hung on the mantel under the Nativity scene.
And then there’s the elf.
“We have added the fun tradition of ‘Elf on a Shelf.’ Our elf is named Simon,” Aaron Hurt said of what has become a national Christmastime phenomenon this year.
Each morning, their children — Lauren, 13; Taylor, 11; and Landon, 6 — take delight in searching the house to find the elf.
While Aaron Hurt hasn’t used the social media site Facebook to post photos of the family’s elf as many others have this Christmas season, he has used it to share digital images of the children’s Christmas concerts and church pageant.
Despite digital technology defining the 21st century, the Hurts agree that their favorite Christmas traditions hearken to yesteryear. One grandmother gives an ornament to each child each year, and the children decorate the tree with them.
“They have our names and the year on them, usually. They’re special,” Taylor said.
Another grandmother, until her death a few years ago, made sure each Christmas that the children received a Christmas-themed book.
“My favorites are the cut-out ones,” Landon said in reference to the books made in pop-out style, with intricately cut paper scenes that unfold as each page is turned.
“They are cherished,” Aaron Hurt said of his mother’s gift to the children. “We read them in the evenings during the Christmas season each year and think of her.”
ON THE RADIO: A number of old standards have been re-released by contemporary artists. One of the oldest to get worked over was “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” a centuries-old English carol that a Canadian group, Barenaked Ladies, turned into a hit with the help of singer Sarah McLachlan.
AT THE TOY STORE: Tech toys remain the rage, from the Wii to iPods and iPads. Even the classics aren’t immune from being updated. There is a “Monopoly Live” version that talks to the players, keeps track of the money and prevents cheating. And Tonka released a vehicle that not only performs stunts but also stores those stunts in an electronic memory so they can be repeated later.