With four active children, Melissa and Stephen Johnston have a lot of schedules to juggle during the year. But when Christmas comes around, the pace shifts and the family’s focus narrows.
Togetherness and a spirit of giving are at the heart of all of the Johnstons’ activities each December. Christmas pajamas, a chocolate Advent calendar and a beloved elf mysteriously arrive at the family’s home on December 1. The kids dig deep into sprinkles and icing to help make Christmas cookies as festive music plays. Melissa—along with her mother and several friends—knits and delivers colorful scarves for the homeless to wear on cold nights.
“We like to focus on others during the holidays and have tried to teach our kids the importance of serving those in need,” Stephen says.
Getting their house into the holiday spirit is another big part of the family’s fun. They make an annual pilgrimage to Fresh Way Produce for their tree and then decorate it together, recalling fond memories and funny stories as they hang each ornament.
Stephen and Melissa asked Todd Prince of SummerHouse, who decorated several rooms for year-round enjoyment, to help the family set a festive mood through special seasonal décor all around the house. Todd incorporated Melissa’s treasured nativity scene as well as several growing Christmas collections—Melissa’s winter village and the children’s collections nutcrackers, snow globes, angels and Santa figures.
“They have a home with wonderful Southern architecture and charm, so we didn’t want it to be overly fussy,” says Prince. “We used a mix of fresh greenery to last the whole season—magnolia, fir and cedar garlands.”
Everyday life for the Johnstons is even more interesting this season as Stephen awaits the theatrical release of Same Kind of Different as Me, a movie for which he served as lead investor and a producer. After reading and being inspired by the book on which it was based, Stephen was introduced to an independent film producer who was helping to make the story of friendship, hope and forgiveness into a movie and asked to consider investing in the project. He declined at first, but ultimately “I felt like God put me in a place to help tell the story,” he says. “The message is one that I feel like the world needs to hear.”
The movie, which was filmed in Mississippi and stars Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger, is slated for release in April 2016. “It was an amazing experience,” Stephen says.
But away from the spotlight, Johnston family traditions continue on Christmas Eve with the reading of Luke 2 and ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, and then on Christmas Day as the whole clan gathers to eat Melissa’s feast, including turkey, corn pudding and Hershey Bar Pie.