By Kathleen Swift
Photos by Savanah Mandeville

Christmas is a magical time, and it brings many traditions to the celebration. For the Gene and Paula Baker family, this includes all the light and love and decorations of the season.

Austin Baker, Gene and Paula’s 12-year-old son, leads the family tradition of decorating by turning the basement into a North Pole Christmas wonderland.


“It’s creative and magical,” said Paula. “Austin is the first to start decorating with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at a table in front of a fireplace. A candy-cane path and North Pole animals are part of the scene. There’s a full-sized tree with a train running around it, too. Austin loves putting it all together, and he has a grand vision. This year, he’s adding a life-sized elf to the scene. I’ve loved Christmas and the decorating all of my life, and I’ve passed that on to Austin.”

Paula and Austin do most of the decorating, and while Austin is creating the North Pole in the basement, Paula is creating a gingerbread wonderland in the kitchen.

“It’s whimsical,” said Paula, “with gingerbread houses, Christmas cookie jars on the tops of the cabinets, and resin gingerbread boys and girls everywhere. We make gingerbread cookies, too, and Gene loves eating those.”

Every room is filled with the delights of the season. Paula fills the sunroom with snowmen, and Austin decorates a full-sized tree in his bedroom. This year, a dear family friend, Father Larry Parker, joined the fun in assisting Paula and the family in the decorating. Not a room at the Baker home escapes receiving a touch of the holiday spirit.

The family traditionally gathers for their celebrations in the piano room, which boasts a 10-foot-tall tree decorated in silver, icy blue and gold. The tree is filled with ornaments that hold special meaning for the family.

“It’s not a fancy tree, but it’s jammed with ornaments from our childhoods and ornaments we’ve bought on vacations, and ornaments from milestones in Austin’s life. It’s filled with things that are sentimental for us and help us relive precious memories,” said Paula.

One of the first things to be unwrapped and put up for the decorations are three angel bells Gene has had since his childhood. Those special memories are what make the decorations in the Baker home so special.

The stockings are hung in front of the fireplace, making a cozy place for opening presents and celebrating with family and friends.

Gene is the chief taste tester for the baking Paula does.

“I love making cookies of all kinds by the dozens,” quipped Paula. “We love to eat cookies and drink hot chocolate and sit by the tree and watch the lights.”

The family kicks off the season on Thanksgiving evening with a viewing of Christmas Vacation and continues to enjoy all of the classic Christmas movies throughout the season.

“There’s no such thing as too much Christmas,” said Paula.

“It’s such a special time of year. We celebrate with our extended family, we sing carols together, and we enjoy a few days in Branson together attending Christmas shows.

“On Christmas Day in the afternoon, we carry on a tradition that Gene’s mother started by frying donuts. I use her recipe, and we honor her in this way.”

On Christmas Eve, the family attends church services together.

“At every opportunity, we talk to Austin about the birth of Jesus. Of all of our traditions, we keep the birth of Jesus front and center.”

That is what Christmas is about, and through lights, decorations, time with family and friends, food and laughter, the Baker family marks the season of love.