Christmas is the time of celebrating the birth of Jesus. It is a time of rejoicing of the coming of the Son of God. Over the years, Christians have found many ways to observe Christmas and families develop traditions that are passed down from generation to generation.
Shawn and Annamarie Bauer of Kunkletown follow a Christmas tradition passed on from Shawn's parents. It is in the form of a towering Christmas tree. It fills their living room with all its splendor.
Shawn's parents, Betty and John Bauer, have a cathedral ceiling in their home and every year they had put up a 20' live tree.
"They don't do it anymore so we took up the tradition," says Shawn.
Shawn and Ann do continue the tradition of sharing Christmas Eve at his parents' home with all his family, because tradition is very important to the Bauers.
When Shawn and Ann first got married, their small single-story ranch home could not accommodate such a large tree. After the birth of their triplet daughters nine years ago, Shawn, a master carpenter, designed and renovated their home. Now the large four-bedroom, two-story six-dormer Cape Cod has a 30' high cathedral ceiling - just right for a large Bauer Christmas tree.
In the past, they have had 20' high trees, but this year, they've downsized to a 15' Conifer which spreads out about eight feet wide at the bottom.
"Every year we look at every tree. Shawn would like to take the first one we see but I like to look at all of them. This year we trudged through a lot of tree farms until we found one this large," says Ann.
Shawn secures it firmly with thin wire to the stair and balcony bannisters.
It takes three hours to put on the 1,000 lights. They switched over to LED last year, trying to be energy conscious. The rest of the day is devoted to putting on the ornaments. Each one is special. Many are handmade by the Bauers' four daughters, Crystal, 20, and triplets Amy, Sarah and Jill, 9.
Some are antique kugels, a tradition handed down from Ann's Nana. Some were gifts and she has added to her collection with finds from yard and garage sales and flea markets.
Kugel is a German word that means ball. Germans adorned Christmas trees around the 1840s with apples, gilded and natural fruits and nuts, cookies, popcorn and cranberries with homemade paper items, candles, cornucopias and presents. It was in 1848 that the first glass ornament, a kugel, appeared in Germany. It was a large hollow ball ranging in size from one inch to 18 inches. The larger ones were hung from ceilings in churches, schools, stores and homes. The smaller ones were used to decorate trees.
The first kugels were kiln blown as early as 1820 in Lauscha, Germany. Early kugels were thick blown glass with brass decorative caps. The color of the kugels is in the glass, not painted on the glass. It wasn't until around 1860 that kugels were introduced to America and then sold here around 1880. Shapes such as grapes, berry clusters, apples and pears became popular.
The heavier kugels died out around 1910. The lamp blown Kugels™ morphed into lighter painted ornaments like we know today. Kugels range in shape and styles. There are egg shaped kugels for Easter and heart shapes for Valentine's Day. Quality kugels are hand-blown or mouth blown art glass.
"I let the children put the stuff on the tree. Every year something gets broken but I don't get upset. It's only 'stuff,'" says Ann.
Amy's favorite thing about the tree is the large glass Santa Claus ornament "because it's the biggest of them all."
Jill loves the tree because its tall and stocky.
Sarah loves the village underneath and tells why each building is special to her.
"The one house looks like our house. The church because we go to church. The barn because it has lots of cows and I like cows and one looks like Kinsley's," she says of her mom's favorite supermarket.
Shawn loves the tree "Because it makes the kids happy."
Putting the angel on the top of the tree has become another family tradition. The girls take turns each year. The one thing that amazes Ann and Shawn is how the girls remember from one year to the next whose turn it is.
"But believe me, they definitely know whose turn it is," she laughs.
Why is the angel so special?
"It completes the tree," says Sarah.
"You're eyes go to the top. It's a sight to see," says Jill.
"It's the last ornament and it's a special one," says Amy, who had the honor this year.
Another reason the job is so special is because their daddy holds them so they can reach to the top.
"But I don't know how much longer I'll be doing that now that they're so grown up," chuckles Shawn.
Ann has three favorite ornaments. One is a carousel.
"Shawn gave it to me the first year we were dating. He said that I could put it on my tree and remember the year we began dating," she says.
The other is a stuffed candy cane.
"When I was in grade school, every year there was a Christmas bazaar. One year, there was this stuffed candy cane. I coveted it. And I got it! I have hung it on every Christmas tree since."
Another special one to her is the one she was given years ago.
"I was in college. I didn't have very much money. I worked in the president's office and the staff bought me this ESU ornament. It meant so much to me. And still does," she says.
Shawn and Ann agree that all the handmade ornaments made by their daughters are their favorites.
"I treasure each and every one," she says.
Ann grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls. She moved to the Effort area when she was 19. She was a single mom, working a lot of jobs to support herself and daughter, Crystal, and experienced some difficult years. She says her church, Effort United Methodist Church, has been her rock, and her faith is what kept her going.
At 23, she went back to East Stroudsburg University to finish her degree and graduated in 1998 in management and human resources. It was her ticket to Corporate America. She worked for Price Waterhouse as benefits administrator and pension consultant.
"I loved my job," says Ann.
She met Shawn at Hilltop Ice Cream stand in Brodheadsville. It was Ann's father that actually talked her into going on a date with him. She says it was the best experience of her life.
"I knew from that first date that he was the one," and says he was a huge support system for her while she was in school.
They got married June 1997 and Crystal was their flower girl.
Shawn was born and raised in Effort and graduated from Pleasant Valley High School. He honed his carpentry skills and joined the Lehigh Valley Carpenter's Union and earned his "union book" by attending the Metroploitan Regional Council Carpenter's School for four years.
Ann is in awe of his skill of doing trigonometry and calculus in his head.
Ann devoted several years to Effort UMC's Supplemental Food Resource Center, first, as time allowed, simply stocking the shelves, because she remembered how she struggled as a young single mother and of the help she received from the church. She felt God nudging her to take a leadership role and took on the directorship of the Center for a few years. Now with Crystal in college and the triplets in school, Ann is a paraprofessional assistant at Polk Elementary.
Faith, family and tradition are very important to the Bauer family.
After the triplets were born, with four children, Ann not working, money was a little tight. But there were three things they decided to do for their Christmases.
"First, we would have a huge Christmas tree for the kids. Second, we would have a special Christmas Day dinner. Just us. The third and most important thing we do is stress the reason for Christmas. We teach our girls that God gave us the greatest Christmas gift. Yes, there are presents under the tree and they do get toys but we stress Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and is all about the family. They'll tell you, if you ask, it's not about the presents but being with Mom and Dad."
When the girls wake up Christmas morning, Ann says the first thing you hear them say is, "Santa was here! Happy Birthday Jesus!"
Faith, family and tradition.
The tall majestic Christmas tree in their home is a symbol of all three to the Bauers.
Lyrics from the old German song reflect the Bauers' sentiments...
"O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!"