Mississippi high school students and teachers are bringing the Christmas spirit to Washington, D.C. For the last three Christmases, my wife, Gayle, and I have invited students to make ornaments to hang on the tree in my office. This tradition started in 2017 with our state’s bicentennial, when talented students and teachers turned this occasion into an educational experience to study and commemorate the Magnolia State’s 200-year story. I continued this year with ornaments celebrating Mississippi’s arts, crafts, history, science, technology, and the abilities of our young people.

On December 6, I visited Petal High School to pick up another set of beautiful, handcrafted ornaments. They are now displayed for all of my visitors in Washington, bringing a spot of holiday cheer. They are also reminders of Mississippi’s contributions to the world, its bright future, and the beauty and miracle of Christmas.

Mississippi Traditions

 

The theme for this year’s decorations is “Telling the Story of Mississippi – From Rockets to Rock Stars and Beyond.” This project provided students a chance to showcase what they love about our state, and they chose to cover an enormous amount of material. As William Faulkner once said, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”

More than one Elvis ornament winks from the branches of the tree, and “the King” is joined by ornaments celebrating B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Archie Manning’s #18 jersey, and the Stennis Space Center. Decorations of Mississippi crops and products like Pine-Sol and Barq’s root beer recall our local industries. Clay recreations of some of Faulkner’s classic works, including The Sound and the FuryAs I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! hang next to a fuzzy bear with the date November 14, 1902, when big game hunter and then-President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a tied up black bear near Onward, inspiring the creation of the Teddy Bear.

Dozens of other ornaments made from wood, fabric, plaster, ceramics, and 3D-printed plastics capture what makes Mississippi so unique. The icons and stories of the Magnolia State tell our story, and the students, faculty, and staff at Petal High School have demonstrated that our traditions in the creative and visual arts are alive and well.

It Is More Blessed to Give Than to Receive

 

The tree and beautiful decorations in my office are also reminders of all the families who celebrate Christmas by gathering together with loved ones around their own trees. Many of those families have made enormous sacrifices this year. In particular, I think about the stalwart and dedicated men and women in our armed forces who are not able to return home because they are safeguarding American interests overseas. I was glad to join with many of my colleagues in the Senate on both sides of the aisle recently at a “Holiday Mail for Heroes” event in the Capitol to sign cards thanking troops deployed around the world and reminding them that they are loved here at home.

The example of our military calls each of us to find our own ways large and small to serve in our daily lives. I am proud of my staff in Jackson which, for the last 10 years, has donated to the United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program. I was also joined by many of my grandchildren recently in ringing the bell for the Salvation Army in Jackson.

Mississippians have a long history of volunteerism and giving back to their communities. That spirit of charity makes this season more merry and bright. As Christ taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

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