Holidays a time to celebrate, give back

Each year as I get out the tubs of extension cords and Christmas lights I think of Clark Griswold in the “Lampoon Christmas Vacation” movie. I love everything about the Christmas holiday season, and look forward to it every year. Like Clark, I have been known to stand on the top step of a ladder and reach precariously to hang a light on a bough that is just slightly out of reach.

I thought about skipping the lights this year, but the warm sunny weather last week inspired me to get out the ladder and get to work. The colorful lights highlighting the branches and shimmering in the breeze creates a sense of magic.

Another favorite tradition is making a family trip to a local Christmas tree farm to find and cut down the perfect family Christmas tree – at least perfect in our eyes.  We have been doing this since the kids were toddlers, and the trip is associated with fond memories.  Speaking of memories, I can’t remember a year when we have strolled the hills in shirt sleeves and sneakers instead of snow boots.

Fort Calhoun Christms Tree lighting
Fort Calhoun choir members sing around the lighted Christmas tree in the Market Square gazebo.

On Saturday I joined the revelers that crowded around the gazebo in Market Square in Fort Calhoun for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  The Fort Calhoun choir performed a number of Christmas carols before and after the tree lighting.  In addition to lots of hot chocolate and cookies, some of the children and adults walked away with some nice prizes.   

Sugar Plum festival
From left, Kinzlie Johnson puts money in the Salvation Army bucket with Kaylie Johnson, Andyn Ruwe & Kaiya Johnson.

In Blair, the Sugar Plum Festival kicks off the Christmas season.   It is always fun to see the streets filled with families.  The decorative lights, the Downtown Brass ensemble, the Country Bible Church carolers and hay racks rolling up and down Washington Street were just some of the sights and sounds that gave the city center the appearance of a Hallmark Christmas movie set. As families walked along the streets picking up trinkets and treats at local businesses, many  dropped coins and bills in the Salvation Army red kettle and contributed to other worthwhile causes.


Sugar Plum festival
A hay rack pulled by Jenson Shires gave free rides along Washington Street Thursday evening during the Sugarplum festival

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year are filled holiday concerts, social events and religious services that inspire a sense of wonder, joy and community. When we feel good about ourselves and our community, more than likely we also want to share and give back.

Otte School pig kissing
Dressed as a strip of bacon, Blair Otte history teacher Terry Bellamy kisses a pig held by Sarah Lambrecht.

Schools throughout the county do their part to encourage sharing.  Before Thanksgiving break I stopped by Joseph’s Coat to take pictures of Blair FBLA members unloading around 4,500 food items collected in the Blair schools. Blair students, staff and teachers also contributed nearly $5,000 in cash to the Blair Area Food Bank.  I also photographed Otte Middle School teachers Terry Bellamy and Kristi Baker puckering up and kissing a pig after the students raised nearly $400 for the Food Bank.  Maybe some of the kids donated just because they like Mr. Bellamy but still they experienced the joy of giving.

BHS Food drive
From left, Sydney Andreasen, Alec Tapp, Dustin Hovanec, Mitsy Dasa, Ben Brunick-Clark relay boxes filled with canned and packaged food items at the Blair Area Food Pantry. BHS Food drive

On Thanksgiving Day I attended the Community Thanksgiving dinner. While it is held at St Francis Borgia Catholic Church, it is a community event for all. What a fantastic opportunity for neighbors to come together to prepare and share a festive dinner with friends and multiple generations of family members. In addition to a satisfying meal, you could not come away from that dinner without feeling a sense of gratitude and good will.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Michele Dean ladles the gravey on a plate heaped full of turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing. Community Thanksgiving Dinner

A new opportunity to show gratitude and goodwill is to participate in the first ever  “Giving Tuesday” in Washington County which is November 28 -the day this newspaper is published.  The Blair Area Community Foundation and the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce have combined forces to create awareness and inspire people to be generous to Washington County nonprofits.  Donations may be made online at  or in person at the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce office and other drop-off locations throughout the county.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Blair residents Beverly and Martin Homes enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with family members at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Francis Borgia Church Thursday. Bev and Martin live at Carter House.

Another opportunity to give and get a good breakfast is the seventh annual Christmas for the Coat to be held at Fernando’s Café and Cantina on Dec. 6 from 6:30 to 9 a.m.  Last year the event raised over $43,000 for the Washington County Food Pantry.

Breakfast for the Coat
Ellie Schrad with mother Angie thanks Santa for the sucker at Christmas for the Coat Wednesday at Fernando’s Cafe and Cantina.

With this column, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.  I hope that we all will take advantage of the many opportunities to celebrate and find our own best ways to give back to our community.

Blair area Band and Choir Concert
Blair Area Community Choir performed five numbers during the Sunday afternoon combined community and and choir concert held in the auditorium at Blair High School.

In the next few weeks I plan to show up at many of the concerts and events throughout the county. Making photographs is my job, but also my way of giving back – of showing appreciation for the generosity and sense of community that has been shared with me.



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