GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Don't bother making jokes. This family has heard them all. No, they don't communicate directly with Santa Claus. They don't celebrate the holidays year-round, and they certainly have some not-so-cheerful days. The smirks and the wisecracks are just part of life when your last name is Christmas, and especially so when two of your family members are named — no joke — Mary.
"People ask me all the time, `What were your parents thinking?'" said the younger Mary Christmas, 30. "I never minded. It's a conversation piece."
It all started on Christmas Day 1935, when the elder Mary wedded Henry Christmas, becoming Mary Christmas. They had Bob Christmas, who married Peggy and had six children.
Mary was born first and named for her grandmother. The spirit of the season took hold again when Christy Noel, now 23, was born in December.
And it doesn't end there. Bob's brother married Cathy Holiday, and they had a daughter named Carol. And Bob's sister married into the White family, becoming Jeane Christmas White.
The Christmas family lives up to its cheerful name. They are a lively bunch, finishing each other's sentences and laughing at a constant stream of jokes.
"You can tell we're a happy family," said the elder Mary Christmas, who is 90.
So what is Christmas like at the Christmases'?
Christmas Eve involves a family dinner, a church service, the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible and then one gift per family member. The children — ranging in age from 12 to 30 — build forts in the living room out of blankets and furniture and fall asleep watching Christmas movies. Christmas Day includes a big family brunch with biscuits and gravy, and a Christmas dinner.
The Christmas children agree that the only time their last name gets old is roll call at school. Many of them roll their eyes and groan at the thought.
"The first day of the semester in college, I was like, `Here we go,'" said the younger Mary, who graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where one of her professors made her stand up in front of a large lecture hall full of students when he saw her name on the class list.
Peggy said the name keeps her on her toes.
"When you're out shopping and things, you make sure you're not grumpy or rude to someone who's helping you because in the end when you go to pay, they see your name is Christmas," she said.
They also embrace their holiday heritage. The younger Mary's e-mail address begins with "jinglebells."
(In truth, the younger Mary goes by the name T.C., from her middle name, Theresa. And when she was a little girl, her mother sent her off to kindergarten as Theresa, for fear the other kids would tease her. But it doesn't take long for others to find out her jolly first name.)
Despite the lighthearted way the Christmases talk about their name, they take it very seriously, too.
"It would be my goal that our lives as a family exemplify not just the birth of Christ, but the life of Christ," said Robby, 28.
With that, he was met with a chorus of amens from the rest of the Christmases.