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KK'S Christmas Wonderland: A Brandon couple has a penchant for party planning.

We have been hosting a Christmas party off and on since 1987," says Kathy Coker of Brandon. She and her husband, Lu, held the first party for Lu's district office with Shelter Insurance--with many more to follow.

While Lu currently serves as an alderman for the city of Brandon, the couple has recently retired from their respective professions. As a way to celebrate their retirements, the Cokers hosted their largest Christmas party to date at their home one evening last November.

As a mortgage loan originator with Origin Bank, Kathy established early on a vast network of colleagues. "One of my marketing methods was to send out an email each week with a rate sheet and a recipe," she says. "I also provided a lot of home-cooked meals for various Realtor open houses and functions. I decided to have a party to celebrate the holidays with the Realtors, closing attorneys, appraisers, and all the other support people I had worked with during the year. The first party was an evening event in 2007, but I changed it to a luncheon the next year. This year, Lu and I combined parties and moved it back to the evening."

Hosting a party has become a meaningful part of the Cokers' holiday traditions. "I have always tried to have the party very close to the first of December," she says. "It gets me motivated to get all my decorating done and all the goodies cooked so I can relax and enjoy the season."

Decorating for the party, which begins right after Halloween and is completed by Thanksgiving, has become an especially memorable time for the Coker family. "My oldest granddaughter helps me put the Beyers Carolers out in the bookcases, so that has become a special activity for us," Coker shares. "One of my favorite decorations is the main tree in the keeping room--it is a tree of memories. I have ornaments from 1978, our first Christmas as a married couple. There are ornaments for each year of my children's lives, all of our travels and family vacations, and now for each of the grandchildren. We also have ornaments for each of the pets we have had over the years. Decorating the tree is a walk down memory lane."

Coker also decorates for the party with a special collection of animated vintage Santas that sing, whistle, or play music. "When the grands come over, they will press every button and get it all going at once," she notes. "The Santa and Mrs. Claus on the front porch are from a childhood memory of mine. There was a house that had a Santa in a rocking chair on the front porch. It was a big deal to ride by and see 'Rocking Santa,' so I always wanted to recreate that. I found my Santa in 2010, added Mrs. Claus the next year, and then added the elves to represent each of the grandchildren, including our angel baby."

The party is also an opportunity to display her beloved windmill, which Coker brought back from a trip to Germany, on her formal dining room table. "I like to incorporate all of my milk glass into my decorating as well," she adds. "And I use a mix of milk glass and pewter to serve all the food."

In keeping with tradition, last year's party menu featured a delectable offering of holiday foods including smoked meats, cheese and relish trays, soup, and gumbo and a wide variety of dips that included shrimp, dill pickle, bacon and swiss, and Vidalia onion. Homemade sweets from white chocolate orange macaroons and casserole cookies to millionaires and salted nut squares were among guest favorites.

The meats and dips were arranged and served in the dining room, with chicken jambalaya soup, gumbo, and desserts were in the kitchen. "My husband usually smokes meat for the party, and this year it was deer roast and ham," says Coker. "My daughter and daughter-in-law helped with all the dips."

Looking back over the years, the Cokers have felt blessed to host these parties and share the spirit of the Christmas season with friends and colleagues. These memories also span decades of their own family and children--and now the making of new memories with their grandchildren. "When we first started hosting the party, our children were small, and they loved having all the leftovers to snack on," adds Coker. "They would have their friends over the next day to see what all was left for them to demolish! Now, my grandchildren love to come and get into the leftovers, and they love the decorations. They call it KK's Christmas Wonderland."

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon dry ranch dressing mix
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 green onions, finely chopped
1 (4.25-ounce) can shrimp, rinsed, drained, and sprinkled
with Tony Chachere's seasoning
1/2 teaspoon liquid crab boil

In a bowl, combine cream cheese and sour
cream. Stir in ranch mix, Worcestershire, and
green onions. Mix well, then add shrimp. For a
spicier flavor, add crab boil. Serve with Fritos or

Yield: 1 1/2 cups


3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 (14-ounce) package sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup white chocolate morsels
1 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With mixer, beat
egg whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually
add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. With
a spoon, gently stir in coconut, white chocolate
morsels, and orange zest until combined. Spoon
mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared
baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or
until edges are golden brown. Let cool on pans
for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pans and cool
completely on wire racks.

Yield: 3 dozen


2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped dates
Confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With mixer, beat
eggs well and add sugar a little at a time. Beat until
fluffy. Stir in nuts, coconut, and dates. Stir well
and pour into an ungreased 2-quart casserole
dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and stir down
with a wooden spoon, scraping the edges well.
Let cool. Roll small spoonfuls in confectioners'
sugar, and shape into balls. Let cool completely
before storing in an airtight container.

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen

Caption: OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Welcoming guests to the Cokers' Brandon home are Santa, Mrs. Claus, and elves on the front porch. Hosting this party is a beloved holiday tradition for Kathy and Lu Coker. Much of the Christmas decorating is done by the family.

Caption: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Colorful holiday decor sets a festive tone for the party, including a Christmas tree adorned with ornaments symbolizing the family's milestones and memories. Kathy's homemade desserts are indulgent treats enjoyed by one and all. Guests gather in the kitchen as Kathy ladles bowls of gumbo.

Caption: TOP AND BOTTOM: Outdoors, the patio and gazebo are appointed with Christmastime cheer. The dining room table is filled with the magnificent menu.
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Author:Buckley, Sandra Massey
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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