It’s That Time of Year…
Time for family Christmas traditions. I think most families have their own quirky, funny, weird traditions. I remember more of the goofy, funny things we did growing up at Christmas than anything else.
Every year our parents would put seven things in our stockings. The week before Christmas we could choose one thing each night to open. The gifts were always random, silly things – a toothbrush, a pen that lit up, a pez dispenser, a bouncy ball, play dough. It wasn’t about the gift, it was the fun of the game – guessing what’s inside, laughing at the way Mom wrapped it to keep us from guessing what’s inside, hoping it was something edible. Even into my teen/college years, I looked forward to opening “stocking gifts” the week before Christmas. (If I’m being honest, I still wish I had a stocking full of random, wrapped goodies to open.)
Another family tradition I still laugh about is one that I think my parents started accidentally but found it so fun they just kept it going every year. I was probably 10ish and wanted a fish tank. My very own 10 gallon fish tank in my room. After opening a couple gifts I opened a long square box containing an aquarium light. My parents very seriously said, “We couldn’t afford to get you a fish tank but we got you the light. Maybe you’ll get enough Christmas money from your grandparents to buy the aquarium.” Of course, as a kid, I was slightly disappointed but I understood. We didn’t have loads of money. I would save my Christmas money and allowance money and would someday get my fish tank.
Once the gift opening was finished my parents went to their room and came back carrying another gift for each of us. Mine…a fish tank. I think my brother had wanted a bow and arrow – they let him open the arrows first and told him to “save his money” to buy the bow later. We were soooo excited. It made the gift even more exciting because we thought we weren’t getting it.
After a few years of this type of deceit it became a yearly tradition. When my younger brother got old enough to ask for certain things we would laugh when he’d open the batteries or the remote control and my parents would say, “save your money and maybe you can buy the car later.” Such fun memories.
We had serious, spiritual traditions too, of course. And some that were just about spending time with family. The things I remember most about Christmases growing up were the fun things we did together. I remember very few gifts but I remember lots of laughter and baking and singing and light looking and movie watching and Luke 2 reading and keyboard playing…and family.
Now that I’m a mom I want to create those same types of memories for my family. This will be Mikayla’s first Christmas that she’ll really be aware of what’s happening. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled with making too much of the gifts. Even today, one week before Christmas, I’ve thought of gifts I could buy or toys that Mikayla would like. I have to remind myself that first of all, Christmas isn’t about gifts and secondly, gifts aren’t the things Mikayla will remember and cherish as she gets older. She’ll remember spending time, reading books, playing games, watching Elf – the things we do as a family, weird and goofy as they may be.
We’ve started a few traditions this year that I hope we will continue. Today we started the daily opening of stocking gifts like my parents did with me. But, we are adding a bit of a twist. Mikayla’s “stocking gift” will be hiding each day with our Elf. Ok, so we’re stealing a bit from the Elf on a Shelf idea. Rather than our Elf just watching and reporting Mikayla’s behavior to Santa (which I think is the general idea behind the Elf on a Shelf), he will bring her a tiny gift each day the week before Christmas. He’s sneaky like that.
He’s also pretend – and Mikayla will know he’s pretend. I guess every parent struggles with how to handle Santa. Last week I read an article by Mark Driscoll that said as Christians we have three options with how to deal with Santa – Reject it, Receive it, or Redeem it. It’s hard to reject Santa all together. He’s in the store, he’s on wrapping paper, he’s on tv, he is our friend’s grandpa. But to completely receive Santa has it’s complications too. It involves lying to your kids and hoping they don’t find out the truth because they’ll be disappointed. Some families may choose this approach, and that’s ok, but we didn’t feel completely comfortable with this idea for Mikayla.
Pastor Driscoll suggests a balance. He tells his kids the true story of Saint Nicholas – a real person who gave gifts to needy children – and in his memory people dress up as Santa and give gifts and have fun and pretend. Pretend and dress up and imagination are all fun and just add to the magic of Christmas. Plus, remembering Saint Nicholas reminds us of the gift God gave to us in the birth of His Son and that we are in turn to give to others, especially those in need. This approach makes Santa a symbol of generosity and sharing rather than a symbol of getting toys and asking for “stuff”.
Another tradition we started this year is a Jesse Tree. There are many versions of a Jesse Tree so really there’s no right or wrong way to do it. A Jesse Tree is basically a tree with ornaments to represent significant events leading up to the birth of Jesus – His lineage. Some start their Jesse Tree the day after Thanksgiving when Advent officially begins, some start on December 1 and have one ornament for each day leading up to Christmas. There are many devotional guides that go along with this. I found a few different ones and took the pieces I liked from each to make one that worked for us.
Here’s something you should know if you want to do your own Jesse Tree – you’re going to have to make your own ornaments. There are many “guides” you can print or download to make ornaments but you aren’t going to be able to buy them, sadly. I used clear glass Christmas ornaments and found scrapbook stickers that were close enough to the symbol I wanted and stuck them to the ornaments. I had to draw a few with a sharpie. If someone were artsy (unlike me) it would probably be really cute to use different color ornaments and draw each symbol. Like I said, no right or wrong way, this is just a good way to take a few minutes each day to read about the lineage of Christ and help refocus our attention on what Christmas is all about.
I’m excited about Christmas this year and about creating memorable experiences for our family. What about you? What are some childhood traditions you remember? What are some traditions you hope to create for your family?