PARK HILLS , Missouri (Daily Journal ) — Many families have a variety of Christmas traditions: baking and decorating cookies, making ornaments, watching Hallmark holiday movies, driving to see holiday lights, writing letters to Santa, singing carols, reading the Christmas story in the Bible and more.
Tamara Bretz and her family have had a very unique Christmas tradition since 2003.
Every year each member of their large family completes a quilt block to be added to the annual family Christmas quilt.
This one-of-a-kind functional piece of art becomes a treasured family heirloom.
Every year, each person in the family receives a quilt block to decorate however they choose.
“You can look at each year’s quilt and tell what that person’s focus was,” said Bretz.
Once all the blocks have been decorated, Bretz has a quilt completed with each of the colorful squares.
Each Christmas, the next family member in line gets that year’s quilt. Bretz kept the first year’s quilt from 2003. The quilt recipients then started with the oldest child and has now reached the line of grandchildren.
“We are working our way through our 11 grandkids and then it will be our great grandkids starting with Bexley,” said Bretz.
Bretz came up with this activity for her family. At the time she was looking for something to do when everyone got together at Christmas. So she cut quilt blocks and bought paint. That’s how their annual tradition began.
At first, family members thought it was fun and a great idea. After a few years, some grumbled about it but everyone always had their block completed. Once the grandchildren started getting the quilts, there has been much excitement and talk about who will receive that year’s quilt.
Bretz turns adult grumbling into fun by telling the grandkids they get to open presents as soon as the quilt blocks are completed.
“There was one year that we did not do the quilt because there was a lot of grumbling,” said Bretz, “but it was such a big deal because we did not do it that I realized how important it was not only to me, but to everyone.”
She said now there is lighthearted grumbling from a few but “everyone has a block and I know that it has real meaning for them.”
Bretz said she feels each of the quilts are special.
“Every year we have a lasting memory and they will be able to go hand the quilts down through generations,” she said. “It is always exciting for me when I go to one of their homes and see the quilts in use on someone’s bed.”
Bretz said her family has been blessed in the sense that their family has continued to grow.
“In fact, if you look at the number of quilt blocks in each quilt,” she said, “you can see how much our family has grown through the years.”
As for what goes into each quilt block, Bretz said it is plenty of love and creativity.
“Each person comes up with their own ideas,” she said.
She provides the blocks and paints and any tools to make it easier or more fun such as stencils.
“Sometimes there is silliness like [recently] when they were making blocks the words ‘Uncle Nate rules’ came up a few times,” said Bretz.
The family quilts always include every member of the family. When son Cory was in the service and could not always be there with his family, they mailed his quilt blocks to him or saved them for when he came home.
“This project has always been a family quilt,” said Bretz.
Although the quilts do not usually have an overall theme, Bretz said last year’s quilt went to granddaughter Bianca.
“If you look at Bianca’s quilt from last year, you can see that Harry Potter appears to be a focus,” she said.
Looking back, Bretz said she never dreamed this quilt project from 2003 would become an annual family tradition.
“I remember that everyone was excited that year to participate,” she said. “I witnessed how talented our kids and their spouses were!”
Fondly remembering the first quilt, she recalled the three sets of tiny handprints from their first three grandchildren. This year, their oldest grandson has the footprints of his son on a block.
Bretz said she now looks at that first quilt and the little handprints and becomes emotional at how much their family has grown and how quickly their children have grown up.
Now, she loves how her grandchildren anxiously await their turn to receive their Christmas quilt and come up with creative ideas to decorate their blocks.
“Mostly I just love that our family is close and we all manage to get together each Christmas,” she said.
Grandson Carson, 12, received his completed quilt this year. The blocks for his quilt were completed last year, and Bretz had it finished with red, white and blue stars.
The Christmas quilt tradition began after Mark and Tamara Bretz married in 1995.
“Mark and I are the Brady Bunch family,” said Bretz. “He had four kids and I had three when we got married.”
When they were united in marriage 25 years ago, Mark’s oldest child was 17 and her youngest was 3 so there was quite a range of ages in the children.
The couple’s family currently includes their seven children: Nate Bretz and wife Carrie, daughter Katrina Dudas and husband Steve, son Perry Bretz and wife Stacy, daughter Crystal Cavelli and husband Grant, daughter Teresa Pinkley and husband Chris, son Cory Campbell and wife Katrina, and daughter Caytee Bretz; 11 grandchildren Michael and wife Jordan, Trinity, Jocelyn, Tucker, Paige, Bianca, Carson, Nico, Ana, Makayla and Scarlett; and great grandson Bexley.
Bretz said the family occasionally has an extra one or two people who show up at family gatherings such as Mark’s mom or a friend of one of the kids or grandkids.
“We try not to leave anyone out if they show up,” she said. “They get to be part of the fun.”
Bretz never thought a simple quilt project would turn into a family tradition that would still continue nearly two decades later.
“I love telling people what we do as a family to create these quilts,” she said. “It keeps the memories flowing from year to year through the pictures that each person puts on their block.”
The Bretz family quilts are colorful stories stitched together with memories and love to be treasured by future generations.
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