We will be at home in Midland for the Christmas holidays this year, a practice that’s become tradition these past five years. Before that, we traveled every year. Cyndi and I were the first of our generation in either family to marry, and since we always lived hours away from both, we established a pattern of alternating holidays – Thanksgiving with one family, and Christmas with the other, and then flip flop the next year – from the very beginning. It was a pattern that we maintained, with only rare exceptions, since that first holiday season in 1979. As other cousins married they joined the same schedule, each family alternating a big Christmas with a small Christmas. Nowadays, however, since all our cousins have families of their own, the tradition has had to adapt. It has become harder to round up the entire tribe in one place.
However, location is no longer all that important to me. I’m happy whenever we’re all together no matter whose house we’re in. I don’t mind traveling for holidays unless the roads are icy, and I don’t mind having lots of family around (although I am usually the first to start looking for an escape to privacy after a day or two).
For Cyndi and I, Christmas is truly a season-long celebration. We start watching Christmas movies as soon after Halloween as possible. In fact, we may watch a different movie every night, which is unusual for us since we almost never have our TV on every night. The only other time we watch that much TV is during the Olympics.
Our favorite movie is The Muppet Christmas Carol, and it is always the first one we watch every year. We also enjoy Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Miracle on 34th Street (2000), White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Elf, The Preacher’s Wife, Olive the Other Reindeer, The Polar Express, The Santa Clause, and Christmas With the Kranks. Lately we’ve added Four Christmases and Fred Claus.
One family tradition we missed this year, and I’m sad to write this, is Christmas caroling. And not only are we not going this year, we didn’t go caroling last year, either.
Not only do I miss singing the songs together, but it makes me nervous to miss. I’m afraid this time-honored tradition will fall away in modern times, and these young families God has entrusted to us will not have the joy of caroling with their children the way we did
Cyndi and I started caroling as a Sunday School class event 22 years ago, and we kept it up through at least three different Sunday School assignments. We have great memories that accompany each adventure … no, even better, we have great stories. I hope we find a place for it next year. My heart needs it.
One of our oldest family Christmas traditions is to read the book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. In the past years, Cyndi read it in the car whenever we drove from Midland to Hobbs for Thanksgiving, and it lasted almost perfectly from driveway to driveway. But now that my parents live in Midland and we don’t make the hour-and-a-half drive to Hobbs we lost that opportunity.
However, Cyndi also reads an abridged version of the book every year during one of our adult Bible study classes. Some of the couples may have heard this a dozen times.
Here’s the thing … there are so many ways to tell the Christmas story. We read the gospel accounts, we stage live nativity presentations, we give big choir and orchestra performances, we send Christmas cards, we decorate our houses and yards, we wear Christmas sweaters, we sing Christmas carols, and we give our dollar bills to the Salvation Army bell ringers. Maybe we do most of these because they have become warm traditions for us, but I believe the real motivation runs much deeper. We do all these things, because we’re telling the story of Jesus through our lives and actions, and that story changes both the teller and listeners in more ways than we can know.
It’s the tiny details of traditions that put heart and soul into family celebrations. And it’s the effort and expense and inconvenience that we go to that gives the holidays value and life. I’m amazed at how these details of life get repeated again and again and eventually become family traditions that we can’t live without. Those details are what add texture to our lives together, and working them out is one of the ways we love each other.
I hope this writing finds you with those you love the most. And I hope you take every opportunity these next few days to know and share the grace of Jesus, who is God with us, the breath of heaven. Merry Christmas.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32