On the first day of Christmas, they brought home a fresh-cut evergreen.

On the second day of Christmas, they decorated the living room with Christmas lights and garland.

And on the third, fourth and every day in December, the Johnson family of Tilden Township engaged in some type of Christmas-themed activity.

They called it, simply, 25 Days of Christmas.

Amid cancellations of holiday events brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, the Johnsons have turned inward and refocused their observance of the holiday season on family.

Chuck, Lisa and 16-year-old Madison drew up a list of activities they could do together as a family.

No, there were no partridges in pear trees, swans a-swimming or pipers playing.

But starting on Dec. 1, when they retrieved a 6-foot Canaan fir from Beck Tree Farms in Virginville, the Johnsons consistently performed one seasonal activity each day.

The program ends Christmas Day, when the Johnsons deliver gifts and sang carols outside the Mohnton home of Lisa’s father, John Rosselli Sr.

Normally, they would have visited with Rosselli on Christmas Day. This year’s different.

Given his age and vulnerability, the Johnsons remained outdoors when they delivered their seasonal good tidings.

Christmas past

The Johnsons participated in a host of activities at Christmastime in previous years.

Lisa sang with the choir at The Bridge Church Christmas concert and the Hamburg tree lighting ceremony.

As president of the Hamburg Lions Club, she also marched with the Lions in Hamburg’s Christmas parade and officiated during the club’s Christmas dinner at the Blue Mountain Restaurant in Shartlesville.

Madison, a sophomore at Hamburg High School, is a member of the school concert and marching bands. She hasn’t played in either since last December.

Indeed, Lisa is president of the Hamburg Music Association, a parent group that raises money to support musical activities in the school system.

"We usually attended concerts, parties and parades," Lisa said. "This year, there’s nothing."

Christmas present

The Johnsons went all out for Christmas lights.

Their house, garage and front yard are a wonderland of colored lights that rage against the darkness surrounding their home along a country road northwest of Hamburg.

"We’re living in a dark world," says Lisa. "We wanted to make it a little brighter."

Working together on indoor activities, the Christmas spirit flourished in the Johnson household.

Chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven filled the home with a comforting scent. Hanging Christmas stockings on the fireplace mantel evoked a nostalgic feeling for when Madison was a child and Lisa read her the Nativity story.

Placing an ornament with a picture of her late mother, Nancy Rosselli, Lisa's thoughts drifted to Christmas in the family home in Mount Penn when she was a child.

"My mom and I would listen to the Beach Boys’ Christmas album while we were decorating the tree," she recalled. "My mom was a very loving and giving person."

Perhaps the most meaningful activity was assembling a Nativity scene that has been a Christmas tradition for more than 20 years.

Placing figurines of Mary, Joseph and the wise men around the manger was particularly meaningful for the Johnsons, a family of deep faith.

"We consider God to be a large part of our family," says Chuck, 53, who fries doughnuts at Dutch-Maid Bakery in Temple.

Christmas future

The Johnsons acknowledge they’re a little beyond the years when writing a letter to Santa was an essential part of Christmas.

Still, putting their thoughts down on paper gave the family an opportunity to express their deepest desires for themselves and others, now and in the future.

Madison asked Santa for a Sony PlayStation 5 and tickets to "Dear Evan Hansen," a Tony award-winning musical on Broadway. Chances are her wishes will not be fulfilled.

But Madison’s list also contained a less tangible wish in keeping with the inclination of a teenager who plays drums and sings in the high school chorus: "I'd like to be better at art."

Chuck asked Santa to rid the world of the dreaded coronavirus and keep his family safe and happy. And, in the best traditions of good old dad, he hoped the family bills would be paid off in the near future.

Lisa asked little for herself, and much for others.

Recognizing this Christmas is different because of COVID-19, her prayerlike appeal was for those affected by the virus.

"I would like all my family and friends that are struggling this year to be blessed and have what they need," she wrote. "I would like 2021 to get back to normal so that Nikki and Brandon can have the wedding of their dreams and Katy and Zach can have all the experiences that go along with being seniors in high school."

And, she added, "I would like Madison to continue to stay physically, spiritually and mentally healthy."

Lisa had opened her letter by thanking Santa for the joy he brings to the world.

She ended with a simple expression of gratefulness:

"Thank you for all you do. Signed, Lisa Johnson."

A believer's gift

There’s more to 25 Days of Christmas than making gingerbread houses, watching Christmas movies or delivering home baked cookies to friends and neighbors.

At some level, the Johnsons say, it’s about not giving in to fear and hopelessness brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

"You can start new traditions when a monkey wrench has been thrown into your life," Lisa insists. "No matter what, you can find new things to do and new experiences to have."

Lisa confides that she’s an unabashed believer in Christmas, perhaps more so than ever this year.

"I still have a heart for Christmas," she said. "I'm a believer, and that’s just how it is."

That deeply felt sentiment may have provided Lisa with the greatest gift of all.

"Celebrating 25 Days of Christmas has given us time to spend together," she said, "and we’ve grown closer as a family."

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