My Story: What Matters Most When Picking Up the Pieces

When my wife and I married in 2010, we created a tradition of collecting Christmas ornaments from cities and places we visited. So, each year as we decorate the tree, we get to relive all those memories of all of our travels together. When my son, Aiden, was born in 2016, we also started the tradition of getting an ornament with a picture of him sitting with Santa each year when we visit Dollywood.

On March 3, 2020, our home was in the path of deadly tornados that ripped through Cookeville, Tennessee. As we picked up the pieces, we learned 19 people lost their lives in Putnam County and hundreds more were impacted by the storm. Unlike many of our neighbors, our home is still standing. All we lost were our outdoor items and our storage building that contained some storage, including our Christmas decorations and ornaments.

We were able to recover a few ornaments as we sorted through the debris, but the majority of our items were lost. We experienced grief thinking about all of our Christmas ornaments that were gone—not because of the actual ornaments themselves—but because of the memories they represented and the pictures of our family inside many of the ornaments, especially the ornaments of Aiden with Santa from Dollywood.

I know 2020 has been a year that we are all ready to see behind us, but if nothing else, this year has helped me learn to cherish the people in my life and the moments and memories that I have made with those who are most important. Through all of this, I’ve learned moments and memories are the true things that are remembered, kept and never lost.

Dollywood at Christmas has always been a favorite for my family year after year, specifically my son being able to visit with Santa each year. And 2020 was no exception. Dollywood is known for creating memories for all families and allowing everyone to love every moment. During the fall, my wife and I made it a priority to schedule a visit to Dollywood so we could create those everlasting memories and re-start our Christmas ornament tradition of having a picture of Aiden visiting Santa.

Insider Tip

There are several different packages to fit everyone’s needs. After you get done with your Santa experience, look for the building next to The Village Depot stage where you can view all the photos. (The kids usually don’t know that Santa turns around!)

As we decorate our Christmas tree this year after our visit, we missed some of our favorite ornaments we always loved hanging on the tree, but I am so thankful that we are able to come back to Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. Aiden loved seeing Santa and his name on the nice list! You can learn all about the new Santa experience HERE.

Insider Tip

If you catch Santa on a break, I’d recommend getting in line about 15 minutes before he returns so that you are one of the first groups to go in. I was able to wait in line while my wife and son went to ride the carousel.

The Christmas ornament we brought home may be a small keepsake, but that small keepsake has so much meaning for my family. It represents the process of overcoming all of the difficult things in 2020 and experiencing joy as we end the year at a place we love.

We have always enjoyed Dollywood and the Smoky Mountain Christmas, but this year was even more special. Visiting that day and getting a new Santa ornament gave us the chance to create lasting memories that no storm can take away. In what’s been a hard year, I hope you embrace and cherish this Christmas season with your loved ones. Please remember those who will be celebrating without their loved ones. Lord willing, I hope I will be able to enjoy many more Christmas seasons at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas in the years to come—with many more Christmas ornaments to hang on my tree.

By | 2020-12-21T15:49:18+00:00 December 21st, 2020|Family Visits, Festivals|0 Comments

About the Author:

A Tennessee native, Andrew Courtner (Dollywood Insider 2019-2021) has lived in all three parts of Tennessee twice during his life. He was born in Knoxville and grew up coming to Dollywood as a child with his family. He now resides in Cookeville, Tennessee, with his wife and son. Andrew has his dream job of being a college professor teaching educational research and quantitative statistics. Andrew frequently visits Dollywood throughout the year making new Dollywood memories with his family while reminiscing about the memories he made as a kid. Andrew is excited to share his experiences and tips (especially about roller coasters and thrill rides) at Dollywood, Dollywood's Splash Country and Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa.
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