By Honora Faix Handley, Allegheny
When I was a sophomore at Allegheny College, one of my favorite
traditions was getting together with my Kappa sisters and watching Frosty
the Snowman when it aired on TV. We
would drink hot chocolate, write cards or do our homework and then go outside
and sled down the snowy hillsides.
One year, I decided I should have a small Christmas tree to
decorate my college dorm. I found a
fallen pine branch and decided to decorate it with paper snowmen. Each year, I added to my collection. Kappas I knew started giving me snowmen as
gifts. Before I knew it I had a small collection. I didn’t have children at the time but decided that if and when I did, it
would be my children’s tree.
After business school in Philadelphia, I moved to Atlanta and
joined the local alumnae association. It
was there that I formed some close, new friendships in a new city for me. One of the events held annually is the
Ornament Exchange. The concept is simple – bring a wrapped ornament, draw
numbers, pick a wrapped ornament or steal an ornament that you prefer (with a
rule that an ornament can only be stolen twice). It became my favorite Kappa event since it
gave me the opportunity to fundraise for the Kappa Kappa Gamma
Foundation, but also allowed me to build my snowman
collection with Kappas. Others were focused on the owls, the fleur-de-lis, the
golden keys and shiny Santas. Not me– I was after the snowman!
Every year for the past 11 years, I would steal a snowman and add
it to the tree. I became known for
stealing snowmen and people would bring one just for me. True to Kappa form, no
one was ever upset. I would write on the
back which ornament exchange it came from and cherished each and every
one. There was a vintage Frosty, a
cotton-stuffed one with button eyes, some pre-war blown glass snowmen made in
Poland and Russia, and many more. My
snowman tree had truly become my Kappa tree.
I now have three young daughters and they get excited for the Ornament
Exchange and wait with eager anticipation to see what snowman comes home each
year. The leftover cookies are a plus too!
These memories are happy for me, but sadly, the snowman tree no
longer exists. Our home burned to the
ground in a devastating, three alarm fire this past March. While our immediate family was safe,
everything was lost, including the entire snowman ornament collection. As the holidays approach, we are becoming
keenly aware that we have nothing to decorate. There are no more ornaments, no
stockings or lights.
I was supposed to chair the Ornament Exchange again this year,
but after the fire, I had to politely decline.
Everyone understood why. I
usually brought my champagne glasses, heirloom china tea cups, silver, linen
napkins and other items to the host’s
home to use for the Ornament Exchange.
That is all lost now. It is
difficult to articulate the devastation, sorrow, frustration and range of
emotions one has after a total loss fire.
The holidays make the pain and realization of the loss worse.
After the fire, Kappa sisters in Atlanta brought food, dishes and
cups. Some gave us clothes, toys and
books for our girls. One Kappa even bought my daughters’ Easter dresses. Kappas from my own Gamma Rho chapter around
the world sent items, one as far away as Australia. As a family, we were very touched and moved
at the outpouring of support from Kappa and we will remain eternally grateful. My daughters all witnessed how my sisters did
what they could to truly help us in our time of immediate need. These three little girls saw the value of
sisterhood and it was a wonderful life lesson for them – to help people when
you can and to accept help when you need it.
Now, once again, the Kappa Ornament Exchange is on the
calendar. My Kappa sisters in Atlanta
have seen firsthand how much I loved the Ornament Exchange and have generously
offered to help me rebuild the snowman tree at this year’s event.
The invitation sent out to the Atlanta Alumnae Association invited the
Kappas attending to bring an extra ornament, a snowman, in order to help me
rebuild my lost collection. This simple,
small gesture has so much significance and meaning to me that it brings tears
to my eyes to write this.
It means we will have ornaments for a tree. It means that my
girls will once again be excited to see snowmen from the Kappas. It means some of the burden of putting on
Christmas after the fire will be lifted. It means building new, positive memories for
our family that we will enjoy forever.
It also means that this new snowman tree will truly always
be a Kappa tree, built from the bonds of sisterhood and all of the values that
KKG holds dear and true. When our house
is eventually rebuilt, and some of our belongings replaced, we plan to host the
KKG Ornament Exchange and put the snowman tree on display for all to enjoy as a
symbol of our sisterhood.
Editor's note: On December 6, the Atlanta Alumnae Association held their annual Ornament Exchange. Below is a photo of Honora's new snowman tree, filled with ornaments from the event. "My family was thrilled to receive so many wonderful new snowmen," says Honora. "My children had such joy opening the gift bags and placing the new Kappa snowmen on the tree. They will now have new Christmas memories thanks to the Kappas."