Merry Christmas from the Witness Staff
A real tree, meaningful gifts, unexpected Santa quips, food & family traditions

Article Date: Dec 24, 2013

This year I was delighted to ask the Witness staff to share some of their favorite Christmas memories with you, our readers. Let me take this opportunity to express how much I appreciate the staff of Florida Baptist Witness and the tremendous effort each and every member of our team puts forth in bringing you the print and web editions of our historic state paper. Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart. May God bless you! –Joni Hannigan, Managing Editor


Carolyn Nichols (far right) her husband Gary, her daughters Beth and Molly, sons in law, and grandson, Parker. Courtesy photo
Carolyn Nichols: During the 1974 Christmas season, Gary and I were dating. When we decorated the tiny tree in my garage apartment in Magee, Miss., we placed each of the 20 or so ornaments and sprinkled the tree with shiny silver icicles, but we had nothing for the top of the tree. The icicles had come in a package with a paper hand in it, so Gary paper-clipped the flesh-colored hand to the top of the tree. Although we now have many more ornaments, the now-laminated hand has adorned the top of our tree during 38 more Christmases.

Courtesy photo
Carolyn Nichols is a part-time writer who works out of her home in Milton. She and her husband Gary, a former long-time employee of the Florida Baptist Convention, are the parents of two adult children and grandparents to one. She has worked 15 years for the Witness and earned her B.A. degree at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, and her M.R.E. at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.




Steve and Andrea Burroughs with their children Sydney (13), Alanna (8), Kendall (6) and Kinsey (3). Courtesy photo
Andrea Burroughs: I have two favorite Christmas memories. 

One of my longest-running Christmas traditions started in middle school. When my friend, Heather, and I were in the eighth grade, we started exchanging Christmas ornaments. It was a simple, inexpensive gift of friendship. Now, 24 years later, when we decorate the Christmas tree, I have a reminder of a friendship that has lasted through every phase of life. We may not see each other, or even talk, for a few years but every Christmas that ornament comes and I know that I have a friend who will never forget me. My favorite tradition with my own family started when my oldest child was around two years old. Her birthday is 10 days before Christmas so we have always made a conscious effort to separate the two events, not because her birthday is the focus but because Jesus deserves His own day! Because of it being so close, though, she really understood from a young age that it was Jesus’ birthday and so, just as with all her friends and family, she decided to make a birthday card. Now, every year, our children make birthday cards for Jesus and leave them with Santa’s milk and cookies so he can take them to Jesus.

Alanna and Kendall chat with Santa. Courtesy photo
We live in a very small town and one of our local restaurants has Santa come on the weekends so you can take pictures while you’re eating or waiting. One night he just sat down at our table and talked to our family for awhile. Needless to say, they were very well-behaved that night! Two weeks ago, he was back at the same restaurant and so the kids got in line to talk to him. I know that when he saw four girls walking up, he probably had some ideas of what they would ask for. My girls are not typical, however. My 3-year-old won’t tell us what she said, though she chatted with him for about five minutes. She just says she told him, “whatever.” My oldest asked for a basketball, next in line asked for a volleyball, so when my 8-year-old, the self-proclaimed “fashionista” walked up, Santa asked if she want­ed a football. “No,” she said. “I want dirt.”

Andrea Burroughs is a part-time designer who works out of her home near Gainesville. She and her husband, Steve, are parents of four daughters. She has worked 16 years for the Witness and earned her B.S. in Advertising at the University of Florida in Gainesville in 1997.

Joan Keahon: My favorite tradition was once you got old enough was staying up on Christmas Eve to open our gifts. Afterwards we went up and had a great big midnight dinner. Even after people got married and moved away on Christmas Eve the whole family got together again, we went to the person’s house who had the youngest children and everyone 12 and under had to go to bed and everyone older got to stay up and open gifts. My dad said, “If you have to share the holiday with the inlaws, share Christmas Day—Christmas Eve is mine.” Nobody ever missed Christmas Eve.

Joan Keahon is a part-time receptionist/bookkeeper in the Jackson­ville office. She earned a B.S. in accounting at Farmingindale State College in New York. She came to the Witness this year. 

Kathy Curtin and her husband Ralph and their three children in a vintage photo. Courtesy photo
Kathy Curtin: My fondest Christmas memory was the year all three of my children, Michael, Raymond and Christine were in college. After spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my parents, we left for the Pocono’s in Pennsylvania. My parents always came down to Long Island, New York for the Christmas Holidays as all their children lived on the Island. That left their house empty and we took that opportunity to spend some quality time with just our family.  The kids went skiing during the day and at night we sat in front of the fireplace and played games. The one thing there was plenty of was love and laughter.

Kathy Curtin is a part-time receptionist/bookkeeper in the Jacksonville office of the Witness. She and her husband, Ralph, raised their family in Long Island, New York before coming to Florida to minister. She spent  22 years working in business before coming to the Witness this year. 

John and Joni Hannigan and their children, John III and Belinda in a vintage photo when John was stationed in Germany. Courtesy photo
John C. Hannigan: Christmas is about family. Whether 33 years ago as we spent time in Phoenix and St. Petersburg after getting married; or exploring the Augsburg “Christ­kindles­market” in Germany; or even this year in Jacksonville, Christmas is always about family being together to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Hannigan grandchildren: Joey, Madelyn and Elizabeth June. Courtesy photo
John C. Hannigan has been the business manager for nine years. He and Joni have two adult children and three grandchildren. He earned the M.A. in Christian Education from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 and the B.S. in Religious Education from Hannibal LaGrange University in 1989. He retired from the U.S. Army (Res) in 2000.  


Joni and John Hannigan with daughter Belinda, and son John III and his wife, Melissa, and their three children, Joey (7), Maddy (5), and Elizabeth June “Ella.” Courtesy photo
Joni B. Hannigan: One thing I could count on growing up was that my mother, who was a single parent most of the time, would do anything she could to make sure we had a real Christmas tree. And since I’ve been married it’s been one of my delights to decorate my tree for the past 33 years—teaching my children, and now my grandchildren, the important tradition of the evergreen that indicates everlasting life–the branches pointing   upwards towards the Savior. My   happiest memories of Christmas have centered around the tree, playing games together, taking special pictures, and eating while looking at the magnificent, bright lights.

Ella enjoys black beans at Nana’s house for the first time in September. Courtesy photo
After I left the Navy and when I was first married I served black beans and rice, pork, and plátanos (fried plantains), for Christmas dinner. It didn’t occur to me until several years later that most families didn’t eat beans for Christmas. After all, I didn’t realize I was Cuban—American for a while. And everyone loved my Nana’s black beans. When we moved to Germany in 1983 and experienced so many other different traditions, I began to make our wonderful Cuban meal for Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day. Now the entire family looks forward to black beans on Christmas Eve (before or after worship). And, of course, I have added homemade bread, pies, cinnamon rolls, and cookies to the “must cook” list. I’m happy to keep the tradition going. Since we moved to Florida in 2002, I’ve often thought of my grandmother who was born in Ybor City—and wondered if my black beans will ever taste like hers. One can only hope. There is a saying that there are as many ways to make black beans as there are Cubans. I believe it!

Joni B. Hannigan has been the managing editor for 11 years. She and John, have two adult children and three grandchildren. She earned her M.Ed. from Park University in Missouri in 2000 and her B.S. in Secondary Education from Hannibal LaGrange University in Missouri in 1992. She is a former high school English and journalism teacher and has covered Baptist life for nearly 30 years.


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