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"Christmas Room" tradition especially meaningful this year for Marion family

The AbouAssaly family home in Marion has featured some sort of Christmas display in their home since emigrated to America from Lebanon in the 1970s.

For the last 42 years, John and Marie AbouAssaly have worked to make the first house they ever bought in America into a home for their five children. The family emigrated from Lebanon to escape the civil war there in the 1970's.

"That's why we stay," Marie said on Thursday. "This house means a lot to me. In this small, humble house, we make this big family."

Their children are all grown now - and all successful in different fields. Nick - the middle child - was elected mayor of Marion in 2015.

"We did move here with virtually nothing," he said, recalling coming to America as a nine-year-old. "They made it into a home."

The family didn't come to this country alone. They brought with them a strong Christian faith - and holiday traditions that stem from it. Christmas is celebrated with Church and Nativity scenes - as well as a display that has grown over the years into what the family now calls, "The Christmas Room."

"We used to do it back in Lebanon too, you know," John said. "So we kept doing it every year for our kids. We love it."

The room consists of a wide-ranging assortment of Christmas buildings - collected throughout the years from various stores and trips.

"Whenever we travel - whoever can find new pieces - we add," daughter Gwen said. The display resembles a small Christmas-centric town - complete with bakeries, pharmacies, mills, coffee shops, a carousel (the first-ever piece for the display), and even a law office. Nick, who is also a lawyer in Marion, is the de facto city planner for the room.

"Streets, everything - Mr. Mayor do that," Marie said, beaming at her son.

"I did it the first couple years - he didn't like it," she laughed. "After that, he said, 'I'll take over.'"

It's all about the sense of pride derived from what John and Marie have built for their family.

"This is our beginning here in this country," Nick said. "The foundation of their family here as Americans."

Last Christmas, that foundation was shaken. Last Christmas, the holiday was spent in the hospital.

That was the beginning of Marie's battle with ovarian cancer. She continues her fight - with weekly chemotherapy treatments - while her family holds the foundation steady.

"I've been through a lot last year. That's why they made this special for me," she said, gesturing towards the Christmas room. "I didn't want to make it. I said, 'I'm not in the mood.' They said, 'No, this is special for you.' They made it special for me. I know that."

Even when talking about her battle, Marie's perpetually positive outlook continues laying a foundation - one that has found roots over more than four decades,

"That's my specialty," she said proudly, surrounded by her family. "I'm always smiling. No matter what happened to me."

This Christmas, the AbouAssaly house in Marion has never felt more like home.


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