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Three generations gather for annual photo with Santa Claus

Members of the Russell family have their picture taken with Santa Claus at TownMall in Westminster Tuesday, Dec. 23. The Russell family has gathered together for a photo with Santa every year for the past eight years.
Members of the Russell family have their picture taken with Santa Claus at TownMall in Westminster Tuesday, Dec. 23. The Russell family has gathered together for a photo with Santa every year for the past eight years. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

When Rena Russell, of New Windsor, brings her family to the mall for an annual photo with Santa, she has to make sure the line is nearly clear, for she brings with her a posse of more than 20 family members to cram together for their photo with the man in red.

"I love Christmas. It's Jesus' birthday, and that's great. I love giving presents, and the whole season is just fun," Russell said. "I like the decorations and the presents and the family, and this is just a fun way to celebrate all of that."

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Rena's husband, Frank, said they began taking photos with Santa with the birth of their first son 17 years ago. For the first several years, the photo was an infrequent event, taken only in years when it was convenient. Throughout these years, the Russell family began to grow, as Rena and Frank began adopting children. Today the couple has adopted seven children, bringing their family size, including themselves and their son, to 10.

Rena said they began taking the family photo regularly about eight years ago as the first grandchildren started to be born. She said every year they bring together each of their eight children as well the families of their two adult children. This year the group totaled 22 members in all. Rena said next year the family will be just a little bit larger with the birth of her new granddaughter.

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"In the olden days, families would get together for a large feast. This is just our way of coming together," Rena said. "My mother used to love Christmas and Santa Claus, and I guess she passed down that love to me."

Every year, the three generations gather together at the TownMall of Westminster for the photo right before the end of the holiday season. They make their way through the line and all try to squeeze together to fit the group.

"Once in a while, we'll get a look from someone in the mall about the size of our group," Rena said. "Most of the time, though, people are pretty cool with it. I think it's just that time of year where people are really nice."

Frank said the family loves to celebrate an oversized Christmas to match with the size of the family. He said that each year they cut down three large Christmas trees to display as well as about a half-dozen smaller trees to go in the additional rooms of the house.

With such a large family, they portion out Christmas gifts throughout the holiday, with children opening a single gift on Christmas Eve, breaking into several more in the early morning and finishing the rest after breakfast. Frank said this system was a way to keep the gift-giving from becoming overwhelming.

The Russells display each year's family photo, and Frank said he likes the idea of dedicating a wall to the collection. Rena said it fills her with joy to look back at the family over the years.

"The whole holiday season is about family," Rena said. "We love the Lord, and we love Santa. That's what makes Christmas special."

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

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