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The Snowman Tree

(Friendship, Sisterhood) Permanent link

By Honora Faix Handley, Allegheny  

Honora Headshot

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 didnt have children at the time but decided that if and when I did, it would be my childrens 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. 

Honora House

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 hosts 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 daughtersEaster 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 years 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."

The Snowman Tree

Posted by Blog Admin at 12/11/2014 01:46:32 PM | 

I am so happy about you new snowman tree. I wish I had known about the exchange so I could have participated. Would you send your address when you can. I would like to have you In my book.
Merry, merry Christmas to you and your family.
Posted by: joyce carson ( Email ) at 12/16/2014 1:24 PM

Thank you to all who have read our story and offered support. I wanted to thank all of my sisters for the snowmen ornaments we have received (some of you I had never met!), and for making this 1st Christmas after the fire a special one. When we placed an ornament on the tree, I shared a story of Kappa and sisterhood. It is with deepest gratitude and appreciation that we accept these generous and kind gifts to our family. They truly made our holiday brighter.
Honora Faix Handley
Posted by: Honora Handley ( Email ) at 1/2/2015 2:29 PM

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