If the conventional wisdom is true that family is made up of those you love and not by blood,
Chris and Tina McMillen’s family is a shining example
By KD Reep
A single father with a 5-year-old son named Aiden, Chris McMillen was working full time and attending college classes when he met Tina in 2001. Four years later, they welcomed their blue-eyed, blonde daughter Zoe, but something told them their family unit wasn’t quite complete.
“God impressed upon my heart to adopt,” Tina says. “And while I looked at agencies here and several other countries, I always came back to South Korea.”
On December 5, 2008, the McMillens gathered at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to welcome a 9-month-old daughter from South Korea. “Mia’s gotcha day still makes the hair stand up on my arms,” Chris says. “We were all so excited. Zoe kept saying, ‘Where’s my sister? I don’t think my sister’s ever going to get here.’ But when Mia walked out of the gate with her escort, it really was like she was being born into our family.”
While the McMillens already had some holiday traditions in place—an advent calendar that both Tina and Chris carried with them from their childhoods—Mia’s heritage brought a new perspective to the family’s celebrations.
“Tina created Christmas stockings for each of us, and they reflect our personalities in some way,” Chris says. “Aidan’s is all rock ’n’ roll, Zoe’s is zebra print and all about dance, mine is argyle. Mia’s is based on her hanbok.”
A hanbok is the traditional South Korean dress often characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines without pockets. It’s worn as a semi-formal or formal dress during traditional South Korean festivals and celebrations, like a baby’s first birthday, known as dol.
“Mia’s Christmas stocking is a way for all of us to acknowledge her Korean heritage while honoring our Christian traditions,” Tina says. “Chris and I try to make everything we do at Christmas about the family. We recognize each of our individual tastes because it’s important for us all to know that we are unique, but we do it in such a way that we reinforce we also make up one family.”
This includes new pajamas they all get to open on Christmas Eve, and a daily activity they get to do together. “The girls get to trade days during Advent because, otherwise, they would fight over who gets to open that day’s gift,” Chris says. “Instead of candy or a tiny present, the days of the calendar are filled with something we can all do, like go get ice cream in our PJs or watch a Christmas movie together, or make something like brownies or ornaments.”
After Christmas, the McMillens have another tradition based on the Lunar New Year. Korean New Year is a three-day family holiday that generally falls on the day of the second new moon after winter solstice. Many South Koreans celebrate the holiday by returning to their hometowns to visit parents and other relatives.
The McMillens have incorporated these aspects into their own family tradition by writing wishes and attaching them to lanterns, which they release over the lake.
“In South Korea, they call this lighting of a moon house,” Chris says. “It symbolizes warding off bad or evil spirits for the New Year, and hoping for the wishes we make to come true. It’s really pretty watching those lanterns float over the lake and thinking about all the things that happened that year and what we hope happens in the next.”
Tina and Chris both hope they can take Aidan, 19; Zoe, 11; and Mia, 6; to South Korea one day to celebrate the Lunar New Year in the most authentic way possible. “It’s definitely on our bucket list,” Chris says. “Until then, we’ll keep wearing our new PJs each Christmas Eve, fighting over who gets to open the Advent calendar that particular day and enjoying our custom-made Christmas stockings.”