By Kathleen Swift • Photos by Artistic Expressions Photography

It’s that time of year when we dig out our Christmas mugs, find our favorite mittens and bring the Christmas decorations out from the closets and attic. Gwen Erisman, part owner of Belle Maison, a home-staging and flipping business, brings her sense of style and tradition to her family’s Christmas celebration.  

Chris and Gwen Erisman and their children Sam, Annabelle and Lucy begin their celebrations the day before Thanksgiving with a trip to a local Christmas tree farm.

“We love being together as a family to cut the tree and go to lunch. It’s something we’ve done from the beginning. As I see my kids getting older, I realize the importance and sweetness of our traditions. They are the memories we will always share,” said Gwen.

Chris traditionally puts the tree in the stand and strings the lights and Gwen decorates the family tree.  

“When we travel, we buy a Christmas ornament from the places we visit and use them on our tree,” said Gwen. “Downstairs, we have a tree that is decorated with the ornaments the kids have made over the years, and each of our children have a small tree in their rooms they decorate themselves.

“For years, my mother-in-law would paint a Santa for each of her children and present it to them on Christmas Day. Those adorn our home throughout the holiday season.” 

As Christmas music floods the Erismans’ home starting November 1, the family also gathers regularly to watch Christmas movies together.  

“We always begin our movie nights watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on Thanksgiving night with Chris’ side of the family,” said Gwen. “When everyone is home for an evening, we will eat dinner, eat the cookies we’ve baked and frosted and watch all of our favorite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Charlie Brown, A Christmas Story and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. On the night before Christmas Eve, we always watch The Nativity Story. 

Another tradition the family maintains is sharing experiences together. 

“We try to find some kind of production like The Nutcracker every year to attend,” remarked Gwen. “We go to Kansas City to see the lights at the Plaza and to grab those last-minute Christmas gifts. Some years, we go to Dallas to see the Christmas production at the mega church we attended while living there.

“On Christmas Eve, we always go to church,” said Gwen. “Chris especially likes the late-night services because of the quiet and calm. We do want our children to keep focused on the birth of Christ, which is what the season is all about. We want our children to internalize why we celebrate Christmas.”

Serving others is important to the Erisman family celebration, too. “It’s important that our kids know that an integral part of Christmas is giving. As a family, we’ve served Christmas Eve dinner at Watered Gardens and helped prepare and deliver gifts for foster children through Fostering Hope.”

The Erismans round out the holidays with an extended family gathering on Christmas Eve with Gwen’s parents. Her mom cooks a dinner of prime rib and the family exchanges gifts, and a white elephant gift exchange follows. Christmas Day includes a meal with Chris’ family and a gift exchange.

Christmas morning finds the Erismans at home savoring cinnamon rolls and opening gifts. Gwen wraps the gifts for each child in a unique paper, and only occasionally gets a gift in the wrong paper, which can leave a daughter wondering why she got a pair of boy’s jeans. 

“Our Christmas traditions are so important to us,” said Gwen, “but mostly the Christmas season means being together while we bake cookies or watch movies or go look at the Christmas lights. It’s time together as a family, and we hope to keep these traditions going for many more years.”

See more photos from this story in the December 2021 print edition.