About 15 years ago, Dana Ness and her husband, Andy James, faced some roadblocks in their Christmas plans. They couldn’t find a way for all three of her younger brothers, who were spread out across the country, to join them for the holidays. That’s when the Vashon Island couple had an idea: Rather than stress over this one set holiday, why not just create their own?
The epiphany quickly gave birth to an annual holiday tradition involving celebrating one of the family’s most beloved figures — Laurence Tureaud, aka Mr. T. The actor and retired professional wrestler has been a positive figure for Ness, a veterinarian, and her brothers ever since they watched his 1980s television series "The A-Team." Their appreciation for Mr. T’s positivity, enthusiasm and humor has only grown since then, and with the help of their homemade holiday, “T-Mas,” has spread to James and their 15-year-old son, Elliott.
“He brings the family together,” says James, a teacher. “He’s not complicated. Everyone else is complicated, but not Mr. T.”
T-Mas typically takes place at the couple’s home sometime in the winter, depending on when Ness’ brothers are available. The group of family members and a handful of friends start by eating food that starts with the letter T.
Riffing off “I pity the fool,” Mr. T’s catchphrase in "Rocky III," each person then makes a list of fools they pitied during the year. In the past they’ve picked public figures and local community members (Elliott’s favorites when he was little were “hunters” and “stealers”). The children then go into the woods to collect small sticks, so everyone can make stick-figure fools.
Each person takes a turn saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I pity a great many fools this year” (a quote from an old article on The Onion), before reading their list and throwing the paper and sticks into the fire. Ness says the act of burning helps them each release any resentment they still feel toward these people: “You pity them and then you let it go.”
The group also exchanges small gifts, usually from the local thrift store. But one of the most important parts of the holiday is honoring Mr. T’s love for his mother by spending the entire day respecting mothers.
“Mothers can breathe easy for one day, because their kids aren’t going to be picking on them,” says James.
How we celebrate: Meet more families and hear about their holidays