A McKenna Family Christmas: Dani Pettrey

I’m so excited to be part of Bethany House’s new blog, and especially excited to be sharing about Christmas traditions. We all have them—fun traditions started when we were kids or as adults. These traditions create beautiful and often hilarious memories. Today I thought it’d be fun to give you an insider’s peek into a McKenna Family Christmas. If you aren’t familiar with the McKennas, they are the family whose story is told in my ALASKAN COURAGE series. Just typing the word Alaska makes me think of cold winter nights and cuddling up inside by a warm fireplace. Let’s see how the McKennas enjoy spending their Christmas, and I’ll be sharing a little of my own family traditions along the way.

Family: The McKenna siblings (Cole, Gage, Kayden, Reef, and Piper) have always been close, but especially so after the death of their parents while most were in their teens. Since then, Cole and Piper in particular have worked hard to keep Christmas a joyful time full of the traditions their parents began.

Serving: The McKennas have been instilled with a love of serving and giving back since they were young. Their dad volunteered with Search and Rescue, and each of the siblings continue that tradition today. At Christmas time, they serve at the local soup kitchen on Christmas Eve before the church service. Gage does the cooking, and the rest help serve and clean up. Piper also makes up a list of gifts for less-fortunate families in their town, and each of the siblings adopts a different family—delivering the presents to the parents to share with their children on Christmas morning.

Book Advent: The McKennas’ mom was a book lover, giving each of the kids a middle name after one of her favorite literary characters. A tradition she started when they were young was giving them each a new Christmas book each year. After several years they were able to begin a Christmas advent where they’d get the books from past years out and read one each day during the month of December. This is something I did in my own family. I treasure the books given to me, and we still pull them out each December. My favorite is The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes. It always makes me thankful for a warm home and a loving family.

Baking time: Baking time each year is quite an adventure in the McKenna household. With an amateur chef like Gage running things and trying to out-do himself each year, they end up with some pretty fun concoctions like Ten-Layer Leaning Tower of Cookies (his most recent masterpiece). In our home instead of baking cookies, we had a Styrofoam Christmas tree we decorated with candy to look like ornaments. Then each day during the month of December we took off a piece to eat. Yum!

Getting the tree: Getting the tree is the highlight of Gage’s Christmas. He loves hiking out into the woods to pick out and cut down a fresh evergreen tree. The girls go along to help pick a good, full tree, while the men are always focused on cutting down the biggest one, even if it means having to chop some off to make it actually fit in the house.

Decorating: Here’s where Piper McKenna goes nuts. She adores decorating the house in evergreen bows, pinecones, and family heirloom ornaments. And, of course, a number of moose ornaments (moose are her favorite). Gage, Cole, and Reef always start with the lights, adding more strands each year to the point that the tree glows so brightly it can probably be seen from Google Earth.

Christmas Eve: When Christmas Eve arrives, the McKennas start their day serving at the shelter, and then they come home and have a special dinner feast of their own. Interestingly, they eat a very similar dinner to my family’s.

Ham with raisin sauce
Sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping
Mashed potatoes
Green beans with bacon
Pie for dessert

Then they attend church service, sing carols, and exchange one gift each, though that never stops Piper from sneaking down in the predawn hours and peeking at the rest.

To close, here are a few of the McKenna’s and my favorite Christmas carols. (For more of their musical fun, check out the McKenna family Christmas soundtrack here.) I hope sharing their traditions and a few of mine has brought to mind special traditions of your own. I’d love to hear about them. What traditions do you have in your family? Did you start them as kids or when you had your own kids? What’s your favorite tradition of all? What does your Christmas menu look like? Thanks so much for joining me today. I look forward to chatting with you in the comments section below. Merry Christmas!

Connect with Dani on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Most Recent Release: Stranded


While investigating a friend’s disappearance, Darcy St. James discovers a dangerous operation—and becomes its next target. Can the McKennas find her before it’s too late?

11 thoughts on “A McKenna Family Christmas: Dani Pettrey

  1. Traditions . . . This is a small thing, but it’s officially Christmas in our home when my husband breaks out an old Mantovani CD. It has a very distinct intro with bells, so that heralds in the holidays. My personal tradition involves cookies . . . almond crescents to be precise. My grandmother made them for fifty years, and I’ve kept up with the tradition. Haven’t missed a Christmas yet!

  2. I remember growing up that the evening before we would leave on our bi-annual trek to Michigan to visit relatives, we would have a candlelight dinner. I don’t remember what Mom made, but the only lights we had during supper were from the glow of candles in the kitchen and nearby rooms. =)

  3. Thanks for sharing Dani! I miss the McKenna’s. I may need to go back and re-read them soon! 🙂 It was fun to hear about their Christmas traditions. One of my family’s traditions is our Christmas Eve dinner. Until about 3 years ago, my dad made dinner every Christmas Eve. The main course would change each year, my dad had fun getting creative, but the one thing we knew we would get every year on Christmas Eve was Dad’s amazing clam chowder! He decided that when my sister turned 30 (3 years ago) he was passing on the tradition to us. So, now my sister and I make the clam chowder each year – with his wonderful recipe of course! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Christmas Giveaway! | DaniPettrey.com

  5. Oh, I would love to read a McKenna family Christmas novella by you. It wouldn’t be a suspense story, but a book form of the Christmas experiences you have written about here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.