Frankly, I have been thinking all day about what to write this evening. Back in November, I thought that I would write a series through the whole month of December about all the traditions of my youth; and those things that you share with me. But for some reason, the mood just hasn’t hit me to do that. Admittedly, I have been a little pre-occupied with all the things I have to do. In fact, I was remarking to Janet that I haven’t even watched “It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street or any other traditional Christmas movie.
I also haven’t listened to Christmas carols, had a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, hot apple cider, or any other traditional drinks or foods of the season, with the possible lone exception of the “puppy chow” mix Janet makes with white chocolate, M&M’s and pretzels. This year, in fact, I am struggling with traditions of every kind.
For starters, I used to love Christmas as a child. I remember special family events and even helping my Dad one year bring in a large piece of plywood that ultimately ended up being a surprise for us on Christmas morning when my brother Doug and I both received HO trains for our special gifts that year.
Back in the old days, our family took turns alternating locations each year for Christmas Eve; one year celebrating at our home, the next at Aunt Fran’s and Uncle Wayne’s (that was my favorite by far), and the third year at Dad’s parent’s house (which was the worst). Then the cycle would start over. Doug and I loved the fact that our cousins lived on a lake and the island in the middle of the water was always decorated with lights; and looked so amazing to us – so the years at the lake were extra memorable and special to us.
Then Christmas morning, our nuclear family would open presents together, and finally, on Christmas evening, we would have dinner together with Mom’s parents. So, as a little kid, we always had three special times together with different parts of the family. The routine never varied. You could count on it. It was solid and dependable.
As we all grew older, the different branches of the family went their own ways. After Dad died, things changed at Christmas. The families didn’t get together as much during the holidays and we started different traditions, but none so great as the wonderful childhood memories I have. As we raised our own three children, Janet and I created our own special events with the family – but now, years later, all three of our children are married. Two of the families are local, and Jill is in Oklahoma. For the first time in 10 years, she is not coming back to Indiana this year. Andrew and Stacy will be with Stacy’s family; and Kristin will be celebrating with Jim’s family this year.
So, it looks like Janet and I will be alone for Christmas dinner. And you know what? I am really excited about that. Oh, we would love to be with the family, but for the first time since Janet and I have been married, we will be celebrating without parents, or grandparents or children, or grandchildren. I guess when I say it this way, it sounds a little sad, but it’s not. I don’t think, even our first Christmas, that we have ever been alone. It sure isn’t a tradition – but I have come to learn that nothing lasts forever. Things always change.
I talked to Kevin, a friend of mine at work today, and he told me about his family’s Christmas traditions. For forty years, his family has done things the same way. The family has grown, with additional kids and extended family, but the core traditions of the family have survived. I think that is just terrific. And twenty years ago I may have said the same thing, but time has a way of catching up and the realities of life tend to change things.
And changes aren’t necessarily bad. Just different. As long as the core reasons for the celebration remain in the forefront. Christ is the reason for Christmas. Without Christ, there is no Christmas. However, too many folks are caught up in the celebration and forget that the cross is at the center of the whole thing. It almost sounds trite to say that we have commercialized the day, but we have. And since we all know that, I won’t even go into a deeper explanation.
But it is sad to learn that this year, the country will spend $465 billion in retail holiday shopping and the total contribution to charities this year is estimated to be $290 billion. Think about that. Almost twice the amount of our country’s total giving will be spent on buying gifts. Not exactly the type of gifts that Christ would wish for us to give to each other. Charity sounds a little more like His style, I think. I guess that I am a little more cynical than usual this year. I don’t want to be; it just kind of crept up on me.
The verse tonight is from Col. 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Point noted…..
My encouragement tonight is to make sure that no matter what traditions you follow – new ones or old ones – you will remember to put Christ in the middle of it all. Perhaps you and your family can read the story of the birth of Jesus in the book of Luke. It’s a wonderful story. And, like the family I mentioned earlier this week, perhaps you can even have a cake for Jesus; and if you’re bold enough, you may even sing Happy Birthday, with meaning and reverence. My prayer is that this will be a Christmas to remember – full of love, hope and the anticipation and expectation of what Christ can do in this world……