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December 18, 2009   Email to Friend 

Christmas Spirit is Alive & Well
Debra Davis

From left, Logan and Morgan Irwin enjoy decorating gift paper and boxes for presents their family gives.
Although often overshadowed by crowded store lines, perfectly wrapped presents and blinding bright lights, the beauty of the Christmas spirit is alive and well.

Employees of Alfa and the Alabama Farmers Federation were asked to share their special or favorite Christmas moments with our readers. For some, the spirit is a family tradition or in one case, a promise to make Christmas special for families with loved ones in the hospital.

For Jane Powell-Brown of Prattville, a programmer analyst in Alfa's home office, a tradition was born 13 years ago.

"Instead of buying presents for us, my mother has handed down to us things that belonged to her or my late father," Brown said. "Instead of a mad dash to open presents, we all sit in a circle as she comes to each of us with a gift and a story about what she is giving. Over the years, I have received the first piece of furniture my dad made when he was a child, crystal wine glasses that belonged to my grandmother and my mother's communion books she had as a child. Although her shelves are getting bare, she always comes up with something to remember."

Debbie Chandler, a supervising customer service representative for Alfa Insurance in Cullman, said one of the best gifts her family has given was a simple photo album.

"We are always taking pictures at family functions and special occasions," she said. "My husband's grandmother, Azrea Laney, who is in her 90s, constantly made comments that she never got to see any of the pictures everyone took. About three years ago for Christmas, we purchased a simple picture album and filled it with pictures and snapshots that had been taken over the years. To make it extra special, the first few pages of the album were pictures we had reprinted of her deceased husband and her deceased brothers and sisters. When she unwrapped the album and opened it, her words were, 'Oh, it's my family!' For the next several minutes she was in her own little world of beautiful memories. She still loves to sit and just flip through her album. I believe it was the most inexpensive yet, at the same time, the most priceless and precious gift we could have ever given to her."

Kevin Moody of Millbrook, a programmer analyst for Alfa's home office in Montgomery, said he finds the true meaning of Christmas in his dad, Bill, who turned 79 earlier this year.

"During the holidays - and sometimes 'just because' - my dad bakes muffins, puts them in little baskets or bags and takes them to nursing homes, rehab centers and folks confined to their homes," Moody said. "I was fortunate enough to have gone with him a few times on these deliveries. Seeing the faces of those folks light up when they saw my dad was amazing. To me, that's a display of the true spirit of Christmas - and real Christianity in action."

Alfa Agent James Kyzar and his wife, Keron, help keep the spirit alive in their hometown of Andalusia with a special Christmas meal.

"For the last eight years, we have fixed a ham or turkey with the trimmings and given it to the Andalusia police station or the fire department to give them a little something extra during these times," Kyzar said. "It's our way to say 'thank you' for what they do for us all."

A few years ago, Alfa Customer Service Representative Tracy Irwin of Saks and her husband, Rusty, began a Christmas tradition with their daughters, Logan, 9, and Morgan, 6. The girls make the family's wrapping paper by painting on brown craft paper and white clothes boxes.

"The girls paint snowmen, wreaths, angels, presents, etc. on the paper and boxes," she said. "Our relatives look forward to getting their gift, not for what's inside but how the gift is decorated. And, in turn, my girls just get so excited to give the gifts because of all of the oohs & aahs their artwork generates." Christmas for Alfa Agent Bernice Givens of Decatur, is a time to reflect on how an unexpected tragedy in 2005 created a tradition for her family.

She and her husband, Gary, had moved into a new house earlier that year and were looking forward to decorating and celebrating a traditional Christmas. That fall, her husband had a massive heart attack, followed by an extensive hospital stay, including 57 days on life support in the critical care unit at UAB Medical Center in Birmingham.

"The house I had so looked forward to decorating for Christmas became an afterthought," Givens said. "Without our family, we have nothing. I prayed for a Christmas miracle."

Givens said on Christmas Day 2005, she thought about past holidays at home. As she and her son sat in the waiting room floor eating a sandwich, she thought about what a typical Christmas meal at her home had always been: ham, turkey, dressing, vegetables and home-baked cookies, pies and cakes. Sitting in the floor, she prayed for another miracle.

"I prayed, 'Lord, please let us go home, and next year I will be back to bring these people homemade Christmas dinner. They will have ham and turkey. They will have cakes and cookies. Lord, just let us go home,'" she recalled.

Her husband did recover and go home; and to date, she continues to keep her promise. A few days before Christmas, Givens calls the UAB Medical Center to see how many families have patients in the North Pavilion where the critical care unit is located. She and her family deliver the meals to the patients' families there to make sure each has a special Christmas dinner. "I tell them that today is a day of miracles, and that today we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the greatest miracle of all," she said.


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