Counting Down

INL family takes celebrating the holidays to the next level

Published online: Dec 07, 2020 Holidays, Articles Karen Juell for INL Communications & Outreach
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Many families count down the days to Christmas using an Advent calendar. The Vorwaller family of Idaho Falls has added an element to the tradition that ensures time together during this busy season of the year.

The custom began about 17 years ago. Tami Vorwaller was a homeschooling mom who had plenty of time with her two young sons. The same wasn’t true with her husband, Stevan, who was working 12-hour shifts as an operator at the Tooele, Utah, Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. “It was hard to mesh our schedules,” Tami said.

Her solution was to buy an Advent calendar. Advent is the four-week period of anticipation before Christmas. At first, the Vorwaller calendar was a Christmas tree with charms. That was fun for a while. Eventually, with the purchase of a calendar that resembled a snow-covered Swiss chalet, Tami took the family’s holiday celebration to the next level.

Each of the 24 drawers of the calendar contains a small piece of paper that lists a Christmas experience. “It was the event of the day to pull out the slip of paper that was in the Advent box to see what fun Christmas activity we were going to do,” Tami said.

Some activities were things the family could do easily from home: build a snowman, make a snow angel, watch a Christmas movie or color a picture. Others have become traditions themselves. The family always makes a trip to ice skate at the Gallivan Center in the heart of Salt Lake City. The area around the outdoor rink glows more than 350,000 lights during the holiday season. “It’s just beautiful,” Tami exclaimed. Skating is always followed by hot chocolate at Starbucks. While in Utah, the family also makes time to wander Temple Square, itself an illuminated landscape that attracts visitors to see the lights and listen to the sounds of Christmas from six different performance venues.

For sheer awesomeness, though, it’s hard to beat the surprise Tami and Stevan planned for the family in 2008. 

“On December eighth, the paper inside read: ‘Get in the car; we are driving to Disneyland,’” Tami recalled. The parents picked up the boys at a concert, loaded them in the packed car, and drove all night, through a snowstorm, of course, to arrive in Anaheim at 9 a.m. With hours to kill before check-in at their timeshare, what else could they do but drag themselves through the Magic Kingdom? It was more fun for the children than their weary parents, but with a week to spend, it didn’t take long to get in the Disney spirit.

“Nothing compares to that,” Tami said. “After that it was ‘make a gingerbread house.’ Ho-hum.”

The tradition carried on after the family relocated to Idaho Falls, where Stevan works as an operator at Idaho National Laboratory’s Materials and Fuels Complex. Tami joined the INL team this year as an administrator for the Management System Transformation Initiative. Plans occasionally need to be rearranged depending on schedules and the weather, but many activities like building a gingerbread house or watching the movie “Elf” can be done anytime.

Son Philip is now 25, married, and a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho with a son of his own. “We bought our son and his wife their own Advent calendar, and hope the tradition will continue,” Tami said. Another family member will join in the activities this year. Tami’s father has moved in with them. 

“Now that we have our first grandson, it will be a big event at our house once again,” Tami said. “Maybe there will be another trip to Disneyland.” 

Click here to read more of our December issue.


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