christmas thoughts and traditions

By December 11, 2018article

This is the first Christmas in over a decade I haven’t bought a set of Legos as a gift.

Bob Dylan was right. The times they are a-changin’.

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Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the specific kind of change Dylan was singing about. But still. Christmas isn’t what it used to be in many ways now that three of my kids are teens. The unexpected happy result of my boys all asking for Air Jordans and tech gadgets is that my daughter is going to be RIDICULOUSLY SPOILED with presents. She still wants toys. She still either believes in Santa or pretends to believe in Santa. Don’t tell me which it is because I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

I want to enjoy what may be the last Christmas of childlike wonder for her. Next year she’ll probably ask for anti-aging lotions and books about how to choose the right college. Then I will become the ghost of Christmas past.

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But this shift to teenage Christmas has brought about some happy developments. It got me thinking about which of our holiday traditions we have that will last through the high school and college seasons of my kids’ lives. I’ve come face to face with the ghost of Christmas future, which showed me there will be holidays in our future that the six of us won’t all be together. I want to start some traditions now that will last into that season, so that even when we can’t be together in the same house, we can be together in other ways.

What I’m saying is we need some “All hearts come home for Christmas” kinds of Christmas traditions.

My first idea is to institute a family book exchange. We all love books, and I’m assuming we always will. Books will be easy to ship and order if (or when) we live in different cities. I also love that book-gifts are highly personal when chosen well, so they connect us to each other in a meaningful way. This year we drew names and the craziest thing happened; everyone drew the person who also drew their name. So I got Jack and Jack got me. Morgan and Finley will exchange books, and Jude and Jase drew each other. I’m super excited to see what everyone chooses for each other, partly because I want to see if this new tradition will have lasting power, and partly because I want to see if there are any books I can borrow in the mix. 

I’m kind of a book addict.

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Now this new tradition seems like a really selfish way of getting access to more books.

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My self-preservation is kicking in to shield me from this hard truth. I’m moving on now.

Every Christmas I bake cinnamon rolls to pass out to our friends and to people we really don’t even know. Then we drive around and look for people who need more Christmas; people on street corners; people waiting for someone to tell them they’re seen by people and loved by God. This tradition is for me in a lot of ways, but I include my kids because it seems like it’s good for them. It reminds us to look for the people who are in need and to try to love them if we can. I hope my children grow up and do this even better than I can long after I’m safe and securely in the presence of God forever. I hope they open their hands to give from their abundance when they see people who might not have much otherwise. I hope they love the marginalized and help them find places to belong.

Because if Christmas isn’t a time to remember that God sees the great need we experience in this world, I’m not sure what else its purpose can be. God became a baby so he could bring us into his family, as brothers and sisters. This part of the Christian narrative is so strange and simple; so humbling and perplexing.

Which brings me to our Monday nights, and all the ways we torture our teens with forced family activities.

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Monday nights in December are our Christmas Family Nights. I make a cozy meal (usually soup because soup is cheap and easy to make) and a yummy dessert like these peppermint chocolate cookies or these simple Rolo pretzel treats. During dinner, we have some Advent scriptures and questions we read together. Most nights, Morgan and I watch and wait to see how much our teens are willing to talk and share, and we adjust the conversation accordingly. Then we watch a Christmas movie or play dominoes or a Christmas board game like this one before we drive around and look at all the pretty lights.

When our kids were little, Christmas traditions felt like sweet ways to celebrate with each other and help them learn that Christmas was special. Now with our teens, our family traditions feel more like strategies in our fight to help them remember that they’re loved here and that our family is an important part of who they are. The siren call of our culture is shouting at them to love themselves most of all, but Christmas is a chance to remind them that loving others is the greatest call on their lives. That’s why we ask them to put their phones away and set their books and projects aside so we can gather around the table together.

I don’t even care if they roll their eyes. I know they’re thinking this as they set their phones on the kitchen counter:

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But my generation has already faced all the ridiculous ways parents don’t understand. We came to terms with it, and so will our kids. It may even cause the creation of great art and thought.

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Or maybe not. But I know one thing for sure: When my kids wake up on Christmas morning in twenty years and they have to make all the magic happen for their friends and families, they’ll laugh because most of the friends they have today will be distant memories. They won’t care what they’re missing out on with these teenagers they can’t wait to text after our family night is over.

But there under their tree twenty years from now will be a book, all wrapped up for them from one of us. And I hope next to the tree they’ll have old Advent devotional with my writing in it, reminding them that every Rolo treat and Christmas light is God’s message to them to go and love the people around them the way they’ve been loved by him. Because in the end the traditions we carry were begun thousands of years ago when God’s heart chose to cast his love over every generation through the gift of his Son.

Maybe Bob Dylan was wrong after all. Maybe things aren’t really changing all that much at all. Maybe God’s love has always been the life raft carrying us through the Legos and the toddlers and the teenagers and the Air Jordans and the pans of cinnamon rolls and whatever else we face in this life so we can get to the heavenly shore we all long for most of all.

Today I wish you traditions of love and Christmas and family and hope and cookies and presents and joy and scriptures and candles and faith in the God who made all things.

Merry Christmas, you guys.