OLDSMAR — This was a big year for 2-year-old Cheyne Walz. It was her turn to put the angel atop the family Christmas tree.
Her father, Lightning assistant coach Wes Walz, picked her up so she could reach. And as they watched, the four other Walz kids were a year closer to their turns to add that most important finishing touch.
Okay, so it will be a while before 4-month-old Wrexyn gets his chance. And as 16-year-old Kelvin has gotten older, he said, he "kind of" took himself out of the rotation.
But Jaedyn, 13, and Brehna, 10, can't wait.
"It's just fun," Jaedyn said. "It's a tradition we've been doing for a while. We all look forward to putting up the angel."
The Walz family celebrates Christmas in an almost Norman Rockwell way.
The warm weather is a bit disconcerting for a family that spent 2000 to 2008 in Minnesota while Wes played for the Wild. But as he said, "None of the things we do as a family changed because of the temperature."
Lucky, the family's cocker spaniel-retriever mix, wears a jingle bell collar. The kids' stockings hang on a fireplace mantle accentuated by large poinsettias.
Presents are plentiful, but not necessarily expensive. There is a big turkey dinner, and every Christmas day, the family, as a group, watches the holiday movie classic It's a Wonderful Life.
Wes and wife Kerry-Anne, married 17 years, remind the kids of the true meaning of the season — "We do take our faith very seriously," Wes said — and the kids have Christmas jars to collect loose change they will give to charity.
It is the family traditions, though, that add the most intimate touch. And because NHL teams cannot practice Dec. 24 and 25, and with the Lightning playing Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, Wes was home to enjoy it.
"When he's gone, it's always, 'When is he coming home?' " Jaedyn said. "When he comes home, I don't know, it's just better."
Kerry-Anne showed Wes how to do Christmas as an event.
Wes said his family's celebrations in Calgary were subdued. But Kerry-Anne, who has known Wes since kindergarten, said her parents always made Christmas a kind of a party for their six kids.
"We always had Christmas music playing from November on," Kerry-Anne said. "We always had people over on Christmas Eve."
And there always were lots of presents.
"It's definitely (my mom) who instilled that in me," Kerry-Anne said. "She came from a family that didn't have a lot of money. She always said, 'If I ever have kids, I'm going to make sure there are lots of presents.' "
As a result, Wes said, "Pretty much every year you can't see our Christmas tree."
"Oh, my, gosh, paper is flying everywhere," Kerry-Anne said of the rush to open gifts. "My mom usually has a big garbage bag, and she's picking it all up. After everything is all over, we sit back and go, 'Oh, my, gosh, it looks like a tornado came through here.' "
The prior calm makes the storm worth it.
Cookies and milk are put out for Santa on Christmas Eve, and a carrot for Rudolph. Presents go under a tree decorated by the entire family — except for the angel, of course. That honor goes to only one person.
"It was always a fun thing when it was your turn to put up the star," Kelvin said. "You're kind of the center of attention, so it's pretty nice."
The same can be said of the Walz family Christmas.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.