Christmas past and present

I asked a few of Utah’s movers and shakers to share a Christmas story or two. I have been so touched by what they shared. I hope you are too. Read on for stories from Jen Seelig, Brian Maxwell, Kari Malkovich, Charlie Luke and Adrielle Herring. Merry Christmas!


Jen Seelig – Distance and stillness make 2020 my most memorable Christmas. With the exception of my great, great, great Uncle Otto in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, I’m my only family member in Utah. As such, Christmas pasts feature mass movement via plane, hauling packages, luggage, and a teeny tiny dog named Judy in a fancy Santa dress. Also there’s the layover in Atlanta, car rental in Louisville, driving, and navigating multiple houses and guest rooms.

My holidays are saturated with barking family Yorkie herds, off-key singing cousins, aunts, a sister, and uncles, bourbon, snort laughter, southern mom cooked deliciousness, and sparkly red, green, and gold bows & paper. Family. Super-close and soul-bound friends I met in high school reminisce about Midwest mischief.

In 2020 there is so much geography between me and what is my holiday. Also, my father is very sick this year. Very sick. Instead of me getting to where I need to be to help. I am stuck here in my house. I worry. I worry more. I sit extremely still desperately urging the illness to pass right on through him. I am quiet and hope to hear that sickness take its leave and get on out.

I’m not permanently dropping any traditions, but I am starting one- cooking a few annual holiday recipes from my loved ones. I’m excited to have those smells around me. Usually though, cooking in my kitchen via yours truly ends in an extreme comedy & / or bodily injury. I’m going to take a holiday win if I don’t burn my house down. Christmas evening, a large dog not wearing a dress named Harper-Lee and I are going for a long hike in the mountains. We will sing & howl to the stars, and we will be delightfully off-key. 

Dr. Jen Seelig is the Director of Community Partnerships at Utah State University and the former Minority Leader in the Utah House of Representatives.

Brian Maxwell – When I was 8 years-old, everyone seemed to have a Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Brothers reigned. I wanted one desperately, but my mother was set against video games. In stepped Grandpa Neal and Grandma Colleen. Every Christmas Eve, they would come by with a gift for the grandchildren to open. That year, they gave my brother and I the Nintendo we so desired. We were elated, my mother, less so. Years of gaming enjoyment ensued, but I am not entirely sure my Mother ever forgave her parents in law for giving us that glorious gray box that swallowed her sons whole for hours our basement.

I love that memory mostly for the way it set my Mom at odds with my Grandparents, not in any lasting way, but showed that grandparent’s desire to spoil overpowers even my Mother’s indomitable will.

On a different note, when I was a missionary in Texas, we set some Book of Mormon scriptures to music to tell the Christmas story. We got in so many doors that season using that method. No conversions, but we left many homes with a powerful spirit of Christmas. That brings me to a tradition we have dropped: caroling. For years, my family was relentless in their caroling. Over the years, though, I’ve largely stopped. It once felt fun and joyful but now it feels like we are interrupting. This year of COVID especially, spontaneously singing on someone else’s front porch is decidedly uncouth.

Brian Maxwell is the Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Commerce and longtime political campaign manager and consultant.

Kari Malkovich – I remember one Christmas my mother wanted to visit our grandparents (her parents), for the holidays. As a single mother with little kids, she wasn’t comfortable driving 12-13 hours on the icy, wintery roads and so she booked us tickets on the Greyhound bus. 

My youngest sister was able to sit with mom while the rest of us had to sit next to strangers. I think we were the only kids on the bus and if you’ve ever ridden a bus, you know what I mean when I say the passengers are questionable.  For the two days it took us to get to grandma’s house, I was able to sit next to many different people from all walks of life. I remember the curiosity and intrigue I had at such an early age, knowing of the economic and personal hardships many on the bus where facing at this time of year.  What I didn’t know, was that I was one of them!  
We were poor, we had a story of desperation, and we were just trying to survive the holidays with family far away. My mother had always made it an adventure for us, so I had no idea that we were in the same sad situation as many of the other passengers on the bus that day. I can’t remember what gift I received, but I have fond memories of chatting with new friends, listening to their stories, and sharing the magic of Christmas on a long ride, through a dark cold December many years ago. 
Christmas Traditions: – I love Christmas traditions!  But life is not static, it is ever changing and so are traditions. What once was something magical with the kids, has now become a treasured memory. 
As an empty nester, I no longer leave cookies out for Santa or carrots for the reindeer.  I don’t spend hours in the kitchen baking the favorite treats, or decorate every empty space in the house.  In fact, I don’t even get out all of the decorations any more! And I’m ok with that. 
I only get out the things that make me happy, the things that make me smile with gratitude and love for the blessings in my life. 
Kari Malkovich is a city council member in Woodland Hills, the immediate past-president of the Women’s State Legislative Council of Utah and community activist
Charlie Luke – Christmas will be different for me this year since my 96-year-old grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago. Growing up, both sets of my grandparents lived on the same street in Salt Lake City. Some of my favorite Christmas memories include running back and forth between their houses opening gifts and eating the potluck of food from aunts and uncles.
While my grandparents are no longer living there, my wife and I bought a house on the same street and have been creating new Christmas memories and traditions for 20 years with our children and soon-to-be-grandson.
Charlie Luke is the executive director of the Utah Association of Community Services and a former member of the Salt Lake County Council
Adrielle Herring – I grew up in pretty modest circumstances for the most part. But my mother, who never had much, always believed she had enough to share.
I remember one Christmas season when I was about 12 or 13 years old. My family was experiencing a period of acute poverty. My parents had managed to acquire a couple of run-down trailer homes for our large family. But the trailer homes were old and there was no heat in the second trailer where my older brother, Eli, and I had our bedrooms. I remember that when I woke up in my bedroom each morning, the first thing I’d see was my breath in the freezing winter air. I share that detail simply to paint a picture of our circumstances at the time and to set the stage for the Christmas memory I want to share.
During this difficult period, my church youth group was gathering donations to provide a holiday dinner to a needy family. I told my mom than I needed to contribute a can of food. I was a kid and I was a little clueless and I had no idea what I was asking. But Mom didn’t just give me one can. She donated generously from her modest pantry, hoping to ease the trouble of some other mother who, she supposed, might find herself in even greater need.
But there was no family in greater need.
I well-remember the biting cold that black winter night when, trudging through crackling ice and snow, our LDS bishop brought a large box, amply supplemented with Mom’s donations, to her own home. That made quite an impression on me as a young girl. My mother — in dire circumstances — had not hesitated to share. Caring for others, even in her moments of greatest want, was a way of life for her.
I regularly reflect on my mother’s example. And no Christmas has ever gone by that I haven’t remembered what my mother did that year. I love her for the example she set for me and I hope to live up to it. However, I’ve stopped making huge plates of various and sundry holiday goodies for everyone I love. Because eating so much junk food is super unhealthy and I want the people I love to live long and happy lives, now I make one holiday treat to share: my Christmas fudge. 
Simplifying makes my holiday happier and, hopefully, helps keep the people I love around for many Christmases to come. 
Adrielle Herring is the owner of Exponent Strategy (a political consulting firm), campaign manager for Congressman John Curtis and celebrator of women’s leadership.