‘Mother knew that gifts of time, love and good food were surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas and she instilled that in us.’
– excerpt from Jones family 2009 photo journal
What has become an extravagant December tradition for the Jones sisters began as a simple gathering two decades ago. Back then some 20 relatives joined Juanita, Cynthia, Pamela and Phyllis for a brunch at Juanita’s Ellenwood home. The purpose was to commemorate their mother, Betty Joyce Jones—who had died five years prior in 1984.
Since then that simple gathering has grown in size—to more than 100 invitees—and scope with singing, musical performances, recitations, prizes and a bountiful feast.
This year—on the 20th anniversary of their December brunch—some 125 guests came together on Dec. 12, including the sisters’ 84-year-old grandmother, Dora Mae Johnson of Decatur. The brunch started before noon and didn’t end until nearly midnight.
“We never knew it was going to go this long,” remarked Juanita Smith of achieving their 20th anniversary.
Sister Cynthia Jones Parks agrees, adding that their family has had its share of drama and they have ignored thousands of reasons to quit having the gatherings.
“We were just committed,” said Parks. “We want them to see our mother in us, that’s truly keeping her spirit alive.”
Late last week, the sisters spent the end of the week preparing as they have for years—spending Friday cooking together followed by a sleepover at Cynthia Jones Park’s Marietta home. Smith handled most of the cooking and Parks was in charge of decorating. Sisters Pamela Johnson and Phyllis Jones jumped in to take care of anything that needed to be done. Parks reported that during Friday’s lead-up to the big event the sisters cook and dance and sing and bond.
“You need everything you can to stay connected,” said Parks of the tradition attended predominantly by family living in DeKalb County.
“This is the kind of thing our mother [would do],” said Smith. “She would buy for everybody, cook for everybody. Christmas was a really special time for her.”
And while the event has become increasingly more expensive to put on, the sisters don’t ask their guests to pay a dime. They dig deep themselves and recently have begun hosting events throughout the year at which they request contributions, and then use some of the proceeds to help underwrite the costs of the brunch.
This year a highlight of the brunch was a 72-page commemorative photo journal that the sisters produced that contains a family history as well as photos of their mother, the Jones’ girls and relatives at the past 19 gatherings. Copies were presented to their guests.
“We want to make sure they know how special they are to us,” said Parks. “Despite the fact that we have not had our mother, they have truly made a difference in our lives.”