Handmade ornaments made of glitter, paper and string hang alongside the fancy, store-bought ornaments on Karen Frederick's Christmas tree each year.
Though some are torn and tattered, Frederick, of Woodbury, has hung them every Christmas since she made them more than 40 years ago. They remind her of a time when money was tight, and she had two babies to feed - when she had to make decorations to cover the large holes in the Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree that her husband, Robert, brought home.
But she hangs them to remind herself of that Christmas when, though times were tough, she was home with Robert after he had served in Vietnam - their first Christmas together after spending only six weeks with each other during their first two years of marriage.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Karen Frederick and her daughter, Bobbie Jo, of Woodbury hang a handmade ornament on their Christmas tree.
"Our tree would not have won a prize in the Altoona Mirror's Christmas tree contest, but it was beautiful to us," Karen said. "Bob and I were together as a family with our two babies in our own home."
Like the Fredericks, many locals uphold traditions that help to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas. Whether it's a family, religious or ethnic tradition, many say it just wouldn't feel like the holidays without taking part in the annual event.
For Barbara Daugherty of Hollidaysburg, an annual trip to New York City to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music is necessary before she and her family can start preparing for the holiday.
"The show changes a bit each year, but our favorite scene is the Nativity at the end of the show," Daugherty wrote in an email.
"Right there, in the greatest city in the world, the live animals on stage walk to the manger to see the newborn King!"
Daugherty and her family like to make the trip and see the show right after Thanksgiving. After it's over, they usually walk down Fifth Avenue to see the window displays and head to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and decorations.
"After getting home, we are ready to decorate our home for Christmas," Daugherty wrote.
To help them get into the Christmas spirit, Laura Lloyd of Martinsburg celebrates the Christian season of Advent with her family in the days leading up to Christmas and Christ's birth.
Starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the family participates in activities like reading the Christmas story from the Bible, participating in community service, lighting their Advent wreath and putting ornaments on their Jesse tree.
"By keeping these traditions, our family stays focused on the real reason for celebrating Christmas - Christ's miraculous birth," Lloyd wrote in a letter to the Mirror. "We don't want our kids to think that Christmas is all about Santa and gifts. These traditions help us pass on our beliefs and teach our kids about our Savior."
For Liz Boyles of Altoona, it is celebrating Christmas Eve with a traditional Polish meal that really brings her family together. The meal takes place at her parents' house, Chuck and Ceil Hennigan of Hollidaysburg, and consists of flounder, shrimp cocktail, crab legs, cabbage pierogies, homemade halushki (a thick dumpling), macaroni and cheese and wine.
"My father breaks the opletak wafer into large pieces and we each take one. We go around the table to everyone at the meal and break off a piece of their wafer and they take a piece of ours and exchange 'Merry Christmas,'" Boyles wrote in an email. "It signifies our personal gift and well wishes for the new year."
Boyles said that growing up, she didn't know many people who celebrated ethnic traditions like the her Polish Christmas Eve. And now that she's older, both her son and her sisters' husbands have been folded into the tradition. She enjoys being able to share this tradition with her "complete" family, Boyles wrote.
"It just seems like the older you get the more you appreciate it," she said. "When you're young it's all about the presents and stuff. Now, to me, it's more important that we're all together and that's what I really like about it."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.