For most of us, family traditions surrounding the holidays are what make the season feel like Christmas. There’s just something about us humans that loves doing things the way we’ve done them before. And for what it’s worth there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Putting the decorations in the same places every year, eating the same foods, seeing the same folks can all serve as a wonderful way to knit a family together and emphasize their collective values. At our house, we know it's Christmas when the advent wreath shows up on the coffee table. The kids enjoy the lighting of the candles and the reading of a Christmas devotional. Actually, what they enjoy is blowing out the candle each night! Alyson and I trust the truth of the stories is sinking deep into their hearts even if their immediate focus is elsewhere.
But, traditions alone do not make Christmas. For one thing, the very best of our traditions can be undone by life’s circumstances. Alyson’s sister likes to tell the story of how my coming into their family’s life thoroughly messed up their Christmas. Growing up, after all the festivities of Christmas Eve, Alyson and Lindsey would crawl into bed together and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work now that Alyson and I were married. They tried reading it to one another over the phone, but like every family who’s ever had to adjust one of their cherished traditions, they lamented, “It’s just not the same.”
Truth be told, no tradition lasts forever. This year, families in our church are having to change treasured traditions because of job loss, illness, kids growing up and moving away, divorce, death, and more. Perhaps, your family is one of them. You have my prayers. A word of encouragement, though, don’t give up on Christmas. Christmas is more than our feelings about the season. Christmas is primarily God sending a light into our darkness. Henri Nouwen puts it this way, “Songs, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying yes to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine.” Nouwen has hit it on the head. Christmas is so much bigger than our family traditions, Christmas is about the salvation of the world. So, when our traditions fall apart, and the world around us darkens once more, that’s we need Christmas more than ever.