What are your favorite memories of Christmases past? Do you have favorite Christmas traditions? What do you love about Christmas? What makes Christmas feel like Christmas to you?
I know some of our favorite traditions will need to be different this year. Sometimes they will need to be very – very different.
This is hard. Change is hard at any time. But change involving anything as sacred as traditions – especially family Christmas celebrations – well – that is dangerous territory indeed!
After all – we tend to gather joyfully with the same people and eat the same special – favorite foods – at the same time – in the same place – every single year. We open our presents in the same way every year. We attend the same worship service at the same time every year for decades.
We love our traditions. We look forward to them – year after year. Our traditions comfort us. They are anchors in an often tumultuous world. They are grounding.
I love how different everyones’ traditions are. I love listening to folks share their beloved traditions. Our traditions are as unique as our families are.
Your family eats lasagna every Christmas and adores it. But our family would stage a full scale rebellion if Mimi’s menu changed even one iota. Lasagna – while yummy – is not acceptable Christmas fare at our house. There must be ham, turkey, and roast beef (apparently many animals must be sacrificed for our holiday meal to be complete). Your family loves lefse. Most of mine doesn’t know what on earth it is! Your beloved family dines on stroganoff on fine china, but another family will only even consider dining on Chinese take-away on paper plates.
We open our Christmas presents as soon as the children open their eyes. Other families eat breakfast or even lunch – before a single present is opened!
Your family ALWAYS goes to the 5:00 pm worship service on Christmas Eve – because only a crazy person (or the pastor – which is the same thing – I suppose) would go to church at 11:00 pm!
We love our traditions. They are incredibly important to us. I understand. I really do. Our family has beloved traditions too. The McFarland sons are big on tradition. And their mom is even bigger on tradition! As Jason will tell you – I stink at change! But even folks who are good at change in other areas of their lives – resist change when it comes to celebrating Christmas and long held family traditions.
And so this year is going to be hard for so many folks. We are being asked to make big changes in areas of our lives that are especially sacred to us. Not being with loved ones on Christmas is a huge loss and a truly significant sacrifice. Not being able to gather for worship in-person in Saint Stephen’s sanctuary with your church family on Christmas Eve just plain hurts. Giving up long held – beloved traditions makes our hearts ache.
It feels like this year has been filled with so many no’s and can’ts and shouldn’ts and don’ts. Many of us are just plain exhausted or sad or angry or hurting or all of the above!
But I would like to remind you (and myself) that the very first Christmas was quiet. The very first Christmas was humble. The very first Christmas didn’t have a fancy dinner or piles of presents. The first Christmas didn’t come with 27 kinds of cookies and homemade candy. The very first Christmas probably felt lonely and strange and even frightening to Mary and Joseph who were so very far from their beloved family and from all that was familiar to them on the night their firstborn son was born. The first Christmas wasn’t easy or comfortable. The very first Christmas wasn’t surrounded by decades of traditions.
I encourage you to take some time this week to re-read the Christmas story from your Bibles. (Hint – look in the Gospel of Matthew chapters 1 and 2 and the Gospel of Luke chapters 1 and 2.) And image what it was like to be Mary and Joseph on that first Christmas as they welcomed their first-born son into the world in such humble circumstances. Imagine what it was like to welcome the Savior of the world into their hearts and their lives!
I love the trees and the carols and the cookies and the big gatherings. But honestly – as Christians we know – Christmas really and truly isn’t about any of that. Christmas is about the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Perhaps if we focus on Jesus and the birth of our Lord and Savior – it will help. Focusing on Jesus and God’s love for us will help us keep the rest of it in perspective.
You are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.
In Christ and with Love –