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When I think back upon my holiday memories as a child, I remember that I loved traditions the most…Christmas Eve service as a family, with the unshakable anticipation of opening gifts after we got home in the back of my mind the entire time. Warm drinks, cozy treats and pjs while we unwrapped gifts as a family of five in our living room; the heat of our wood stove and the radiant tree lights in the backdrop for years of memories. Us kids could barely sleep that night as we waited with baited expectation for the festivities to come the next day…early morning stockings from Santa, delicious, sugary breakfast treats we rarely got any other day like cinnamon rolls, pancakes or waffles! Then, it was off to my aunt’s house for our annual Christmas party with my mom’s family, playing a gift exchange game and eating lunch. My brothers and I dragged all our new gifts and stocking snacks with us to keep us busy and as evening approached, we headed to our next destination, the best yet; grandma’s house on my father’s side. It would be dark by the time we got there and we would be the last to arrive. My uncle, aunt and our only other cousins, all adults, would be waiting for us with eggnog, a deliciously huge holiday dinner, Christmas records blasting music, and festively-wrapped packages trailing out from under the tree and down the hall. It would be late into the night when we finally piled into our family car, stuffed with food and the trunk packed with gifts and leftovers. We always fell asleep on the drive home, sugar plums and toys dancing in our heads and our hearts full of love, family and fun.
Now, many years later, with children and a home of my own, it is these special family traditions and memories that I want to surround my family with, so that one day my kids will also look back in fondness to the sounds, tastes and smells that come with this beautiful season. But there is also something else I want to instill in my children, which it never seems like my parents were able to break through to me; the importance of this season of giving, of charity and of kindness to others, mirrored in the love that came from the birth of a tiny baby so long ago. Of course, I remember my parents trying, but I was too selfish to want to think of anything else other than gifts and food and fun. How can I expect to do any better with my own kids when the television, wish book catalogs from the newspaper and all their friends in school keep shouting at us, “buy buy buy!” “Gimme Gimme Gimme!” “Me me me!!!”
I’m not completely sure if I will ever be able to compete with all of these other voices, but for right now, we are starting with where I have always found the most beauty of this season…in tradition. In addition to the shopping, food and gift customs the holidays bring, we have decided as a family to begin and continue a few other important traditions to help us remember the true “reason for the season.”
One of our favorite ways to do this is by choosing a daily devotion advent activity to do as a family through the month of December. There are some fantastic apps, books and hands-on kits out there to choose from that are more educational and spiritual than the silly little chocolate punch-holes that you find at the dollar store. Last year, we used Truth in the Tinsel, a crafty way to talk about Christ’s birth and the Bible throughout the whole month of December. And with it, we also got to add a whole new bunch of ornaments to our collection! We liked it so much, in fact, that I modified it to use each week of advent in our small church’s Sunday school. And now they offer a church curriculum version, too. This year, we are doing More Than Candy, which I love because it gives us 25 days of activities to do for others, serving in our community and showing the love of Christmas in real, tangible ways, outside of our home during the holiday season.
Another tradition I like to make sure we keep is reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. However, with children ages 7, 5 and 2 in our home, it’s not always gripping for them when we read it straight from our NIV Bible. So we like to find other creative and fun ways to hear and tell the story over and over again each year. Sometimes we read it from a children’s bible, or listen to an animated re-telling of it on an audio CD, but my favorite way is letting the kids have full creative control in sharing it. The older ones that have heard the story time and time again can often do a great rendition and almost always get all the key facts in the right order. It is also really fun to let them recreate it by putting on a play! Nothing is cheerier than watching three children play out multiple characters and ad-lib the funniest made-up lines. Sometimes there are two Marys because sisters don’t want to take turns and we have even seen vigilante angels storm the castle of Herod in defense of baby Jesus! Of course, the adults often get in on it by the end to play an odd shepherd or a forgotten wise man, too.
Finally, as we buy the food for our holiday menu and wrap our many gifts, I like to remind our children that there are so many others out there that are not as fortunate as we are. We think of ways as a family that we can help those in need and perhaps make the season a little brighter for a few others. Some of the ideas we have come up with include visiting a soup kitchen or holiday pantry and donating food and our time to pass it out. Our kids have their own “Boxing Day,” where we choose at least as many toys or items that we got as gifts and donate them to a charitable second hand store or give to others. Lastly, and one of the most impactful has been participating in Giving Trees or Adopt-A-Family, of which this year, we have chosen to participate in the 3B’s.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? How do you make sure your family keeps the right spirit this time of year?