Personalized Christmas Ornaments: A David A. Miller Building Tradition

There’s something special about Christmas at the David A. Miller Personal Care Community at Phoebe Allentown.

Hanging from the Christmas tree in the corner of the first-floor lounge are dozens of unique ornaments, each one handmade by Louise Santee, CNA, a med tech for the personal care community.

Eight years ago, Miller community staff started the tradition of a tree-decorating ceremony for residents. Santee recalls one resident who remarked that it was too bad they didn’t each have an ornament to contribute—so she decided to create ornaments for each resident herself using craft materials and gleanings of their personal histories.

“It’s so interesting to find out things about them,” says Santee. “They’re a wealth of information. It’s amazing to hear what they’ve accomplished and seen in their lifetime, and to see the expression in their face when I give the ornament to them.”

Each ornament is a little tableau scaled to dollhouse proportions, using scrapbooking accessories, dollhouse furniture, toy-sized cars—anything that Santee can find to recall elements of the residents’ lives. For Loretta, a nurse’s cap and sewing machine, as well as a tiny RV and three little girls represent her career and interests, and her love for her three daughters. Joyce’s ornament centers around an old-fashioned cast iron stove to represent the years she spent cooking for needy children after school. Another resident, when asked what part of her life gave her most joy, said her husband—so Santee made her an ornament featuring a bride and groom. Some ornaments recall lifelong interests more than career paths—like Charlie, a retired pharmacist, who told Santee he would rather be represented for his love of hunting.

It’s a small labor of love, and one Santee does for every resident who moves into the building. She sits with them and talks with them, learning their life history and their interests; a trip to the craft store and a short while later and the ornament is ready. In December, each one is hung on the tree in the ceremony that residents and staff alike have come to cherish—and Christmas in the Miller community is made just a little brighter by the care and devotion of one staff member.