More so than other holidays, the Christmas season brings with it a sleigh full of traditions. Holiday decorating, festive food and drink, gift exchanges, family outings and religious observances all provide deep reservoirs of emotion and familiarity for most families. That’s certainly the case with Scott and Janaè Swan, for whom Christmas is equal parts faith, family and fun.
Scott, a longtime TV news anchor for WTHR, and Janaè, a marketing executive with the Indiana Pacers, are steadfast in their desire to create a meaningful holiday legacy for their kids. “It’s about teaching kids what’s really important,” explained Scott, while sitting at the kitchen table in the couple’s cozy Fishers home. “Christmas doesn’t boil down to how many gifts you get. To me, it’s about celebrating Christ’s birth, spending time with family and having fun. It’s about creating memories.” Janaè agrees, “We just want to spend time together. Christmas is not stressful for us. We just don’t do that.”
What they do is have plenty of fun with the Swan children: London, 22, a senior at IU; Chandler, 20, a sophomore at IU; and his twin sister, Payton, 20, a sophomore at Purdue. One example is the family’s Christmas morning routine – similar to that in many households – but with a very personal feature. “When Santa comes to our house, he puts all the kids’ gifts under a white sheet. The cookies left for Santa are eaten, and the stockings are in each room filled with goodies. The kids come racing down but can’t see. That’s how Santa did it in Janae’s family,” said Scott.
It’s a familiar, and familial, tradition with deep meaning. “My dad died when I was nine,” Janaè shared. “Mom and dad had always done the gift sheet thing, and it was important for me to carry on the tradition – something from my dad.” Other annual traditions include an advent calendar with seasonal messages revealed each day of December; savoring grandma’s baked apples recipe; and watching the family’s favorite holiday movie on TV, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, while trimming the tree.
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase): “We’re kicking off our fun, old-fashioned family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.” [from Christmas Vacation ]
For many years, the Swans frequented Stonycreek Farm in Noblesville in search of the family Christmas tree. “One year, I didn’t cut the base of the tree very well. We set the tree up, got it decorated, and during the night, we heard this crash,” remembered a chagrined Scott. “The tree had fallen down because it wasn’t level. I strung fishing line between the trunk and walls, trying to balance it, but it kept falling over.”
Janaè laughed, “We had about four ornaments by the end!” Eventually, they gave in and bought an artificial tree, and that too, had a memorable story. “It was the last one Walmart had, and it didn’t come in a box. There wasn’t room in the car, so we tied the tree to the top of the van with the strings of lights still on it. We drove home about five miles an hour, and thank goodness, the Colts game was on TV, so no one saw us!” Scott explained. Recalling the incident, Janaè failed to see the humor. “This was an all-time low for tacky – the kids were mortified,” she smiled mockingly.
Art (Clark’s father-in-law): “The little lights aren’t twinkling.”
Clark Griswold: “I know, Art, and thanks for noticing.”
“We live in a neighborhood with a real emphasis on Christmas lights,” Scott confessed. Added Janaè, “When we bought the house, we heard, ‘You know about the lights, right?’” and noted that ‘holiday light gapers’ often drive the neighborhood streets looking, in particular, for the house (not the Swans) with the reindeer poop fashioned using red Christmas lights.
“You don’t turn on the lights until the day after Thanksgiving – not before!” Scott emphasized. “You can put them up any time; just don’t light them. I don’t think I’m Clark Griswold,” he laughed, “but my son and I have always decorated the basketball goal with lights and the ball too. We put the lighted ball inside the net.” It is these stories and memories that the Swans cherish. “When the kids can count on the same things every year: putting the lights up; watching Christmas Vacation while decorating the tree; the advent calendar; the gift sheet – I think that’s good. The kids love those traditions, and someday they may continue ours and create their own,” Scott offered.
While they hold dearly to our Hoosier values, Scott, 50, and Janaè, 49, are native Californians. The couple began dating in high school in Corona del Mar near Newport Beach. Scott’s TV news career took the couple from Palm Springs to Hawaii to Indianapolis (yes, they left Hawaii for Indiana), then Salt Lake City and back to Indy where Scott has been with the NBC-affiliated station for 12 years. “I love what I do. When I was 15 years old, I took a broadcasting class and did a newscast for the first time. I was hooked,” Scott explained, even if it did include wearing makeup for the cameras. “When your husband says, ‘I can get you a discount at the makeup counter,’ that’s kinda weird,” Janaè laughed.
Janae’s position with the Pacers and Scott’s TV job often involve non-traditional business hours, and both have worked their fair share of Christmas Eves and Christmas Days. “The news doesn’t stop for Christmas,” reminded Scott. On those occasions when work conflicts with Christmas, “We change the celebration date as needed. The kids understand that we have crazy jobs. Luckily the kids are old enough to get it. It’s not the date so much as it is being together,” said Janaè. The holidays provide plenty of fond memories, including the time Scott cleared his Admirals Bay driveway using only a small fireplace shovel to dig tire tracks. “We were from California!” reminded Janaè. “My neighbors still give me grief,” a sheepish Scott added.
The Swans take impish pleasure in a particular kind of gift-giving creativity. Using Scrabble tiles provided by Mom and Dad, the kids must figure out the destination of certain family vacations. “We often surprise them with a Christmas gift of a spring break trip, but we don’t provide any details in advance. Usually it’s during flight layovers at the airport when the kids sort the Scrabble tiles to determine our destination,” explained Janaè. “Not until they’re on the plane will they know where we’re going,” laughed Scott.
The couple emphasized they’re modest with the number of Christmas gifts exchanged. “We have always preferred to put our money into memories,” said Janaè. And the Swans are unapologetic about the true reason for the season. “For us, it’s always about faith. This is Christ’s birthday. The whole month is spent thinking about that and looking forward to Jesus’ birthday,” Scott remarked. “Our faith remains a central part of what we do at Christmas.” That’s why advent services at their East 91st Street Christian Church home are so meaningful. And come December 24th, it’s a safe bet you’ll find the Christmas Swans sitting in a pew, although Scott may be working that evening. The news, indeed, does not stop for Christmas.