ROSALIE, Ala. - Rosalie is a special kind of community. That's clear, every time you visit, even during the worst devastation. Its people are warm, and in the midst of loss, still smile.
Rosalie took a big hit in November, from an EF-3 tornado. Three of its own died, many homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. The loss feels unimaginable, and still hurts the community to its core. But there's still lots to celebrate this Christmas.
"It was as overwhelming as anything I've experienced in a long long time," said Pastor Al Johnson of Rosalie Church of God. "But just as overwhelming has been the love and response of a community, of the churches."
Bre Heard said she discovered Rosalie needed a Christmas celebration -- and memorial -- this year. She got the ball rolling. Soon, her community gathered on Friday evening around its special tree at the plaza to share it together.
"We've come together through the storm so well, and I thought this would be great because, well, I mean it is Christmas!" Heard explained. "Pretty well everybody in the community came together and made it possible."
Much of the event centered around showing love and support for the families who lost loved ones in the storm. Candles symbolized the lost lives, taken too soon. The family members received many prayers, and healing hugs. It can't take away the pain, but the hope here was that it restored some understanding of what this holiday is all about.
"We have seen, and we believe it will be seen, big things come from this that's happened," said Johnson. "We have become one as much as we possibly could."
He added that happiness is different than joy. But joy is what they're working to keep close to their hearts this year.
"We're not really happy in the sense of the word, but we have joy because we know that God is still in charge," he commented.
Heard said the Rosalie Christmas magic continued at the event, when the Rescue Squad and planners heard from a donor looking to make it even more merry and bright.
"She was like, 'I've got some presents I want to bring in!' And I was like, 'Okay!'" said Heard.
Community members say it was an outpouring of love that continues to show how Rosalie is #RosalieStrong.
"For many years I had a restaurant here," said Jan Ledford. She lost that business during the tornado. That didn't keep her away from Rosalie's Family Christmas. "This community supported me very well, and I wanted to turn around and support my community," she said.
"We are all family," added Gail Hunt. "You don't have to be blood to be family. And our community is family."