For actress Sela Ward, Meridian means family
and long-standing holiday traditions.
By Mary Fonseca
For actress Sela Ward, memories of Christmas as a child in Meridian, Miss., are filled with family, finding the right tree, and gifts. These memories–still very vibrant–have helped to shape the holidays Ward enjoys with her husband, Howard Sherman, and children. In a recent interview, she remembered Christmas in Mississippi.
Above: Beautiful decorations are not only a part of Ward’s family traditions, but also are seen through town. Mississippi Development Authority photo
Below: MSU Riley Center will host holiday musical performances, including the Peppermint Pops, featuring Meridian’s symphony orchestra. Mississippi Development Authority photo
“When my Mama and Daddy were living, we never missed a Christmas in Meridian,” Ward said. “Since then, we have celebrated Christmas in our Los Angeles home.”
When Ward was a youngster, the family’s Christmas preparations included a trip to a farm where they would search for the perfect tree in a tractor-towed sleigh.
“We would always put Christmas carols on and have something festive to drink while we decorated the tree together as a family,” said Ward, 56. “Mama always placed a humongous red bow on the tree and streamers ran from the tip top to just graze the presents underneath.”
Every child in the Ward family had a place they claimed for their Christmas stocking. “It was where Santa would leave our gifts,” Ward said. “We were thrilled to wake up and find our chairs covered with presents.”
Ward said she’s carried over some of her family’s traditions to her children.
“Even though they are older–Austin is 18 and Anabella, 14–we still have the bow on the tree and they still insist on having a designated spot claimed with their stocking. They love waking up to see what surprises await them.”
Though they no longer spend Christmas in Mississippi, Ward (who is a member of AAA) and her family go to Honeysuckle Farms, their home in Meridian, as often as they can.
“I grew up with all the quaintness and sense of community that a small town offers,” she said. “I lived in a neighborhood that had two lakes, so there were lots of fishing, swimming, and inner tube floating. The outdoors was like my second home, and I am beyond grateful for the environment I grew up in. I feel very connected to the earth because of it.”
Ward said she wants her children to experience the same carefree times she enjoyed as a child. “We go to the farm every summer, come hell or high water, as we have for the past 20 years. Thankfully, much of Hollywood takes a break during this time of year so we can sneak off for a month or two while the kids are out of school. We’re also there every Thanksgiving for our annual Ward family reunion.”
Her desire for her own children to experience a carefree environment led Ward to think of youngsters whose environment is anything but carefree. She established Hope Village (www.hopevillagems.org) in Meridian, a place that provides a permanent refuge for abused and abandoned kids.
“It’s a home for kids who have suffered through 10 to 15 placements in different foster homes and serves hundreds of kids from all over the state,” she said. “Our goal is to stop their movement, give them a sense of belonging, and teach them the tools they need to be successful in life.”
Visitors in Meridian will certainly notice the more than 100 beautifully painted carousel horses enhancing government buildings, private homes, and businesses in the city and surrounding Lauderdale County. They are modeled on the town’s historical Dentzel Carousel in Highland Park, and were originally a public arts project called, “Around Town Carousels Abound,” that benefited Hope Village.
Holiday fun in meridian
December visitors enjoy the community’s delightful Merry Meridian events. Two historical mansions, Merrehope and the F.W. Williams house, feature an annual Trees of Christmas celebration, beginning with a gala opening on Nov. 15 and continuing through Dec. 29.
Everyone eagerly looks forward to the fun of Meridian’s annual Tree Lighting and Christmas parade, and the excitement of exploring the Arts and Crafts Market and the Merry Meridian Boutique Market. Dates were not available at press time.
Evenings are filled with sparkling entertainment as the Meridian Symphony Orchestra presents its Peppermint Pops concert on Dec. 8 at MSU Riley Center. The program features the Cambiata Singers. John Tesh will bring his Big Band Christmas to MSU Riley Center on Dec. 15.
Christmastime in Meridian is filled with charming traditions. All that’s missing in this plan for a holiday getaway is you and your family.
Mary Fonseca is a contributor from Metairie, La.