In the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve visited with about 170 missionaries who were away from home this Christmas. I asked them to write down for me 2 of their family’s favorite Christmas traditions. Actually, with most of them, I had them describe a typical Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the home where they grew up.
I loved every visit! I learned all kinds of things about them, about their families, and about the kinds of things that matter most. We talked about advent calendars, cutting trees, decorating trees, special ornaments, music and caroling, treats like cookies and candies and eggnog, looking at neighborhood lights, playing games, watching certain movies, going to grandma’s, special dinner menus, gift exchanges–some white elephant exchanges, some with hidden gifts or codes to figure out. Many take trips to the Dollar Store, or receive the same gifts year after year from grandparents or loved ones.
Other activities included sleigh rides, PJ races, goose hunting, skating or skiing, hiding gifts, puppet shows, talent shows, gingerbread houses, sleepovers, setting up Nativity collections, and reading special Christmas stories.
I learned about extended family gatherings and food traditions through the generations. All kinds of meals are served: ham, turkey, prime rib, enchiladas and tamales, pizza, clam chowder, fondue, tacos, or food from ancestral homelands. Some sit on the floor on a blanket and have a candlelight “Jerusalem Dinner” with foods eaten in Jesus’ day.
Some told of doing secret Santa gifts, or door bell ditching gifts for those in need. Many visited old folks’ homes and widows. One family shovels the snow of all the sidewalks in their neighborhood every Christmas morning before they open their own gifts. Some give gifts to Jesus. One family did a Christmas Jar, saving all their spare change through the year, then they delivered the full jar to a needy family.
For most, Christmas Eve includes opening new PJs and reading or acting out the Nativity Story with their families or extended families. It’s a sacred time, remembering the beautiful reason for this season.
Christmas morning breakfasts were also varied: egg casseroles, baked French toast, sticky buns, crepes, cinnamon rolls, waffles, omelettes, cold cereal and orange rolls are favorite traditions.
As I listened for hours and hours, day after day, I was impressed by how important family traditions are in holding our families together. Every now and again, I’d ask someone what the best gift they ever received was. I was always surprised at the difficulty of that question, after talking about their family traditions, which just flowed out of their memories, non-stop. Many couldn’t even name or remember a favorite gift!
For years I have focused way too much attention on the gifts, trying to be a perfect gift-giver. I can see now that the favorite memories lie in the family traditions that hold us together. This year, I had each of our kids make a list of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions. I loved all the things they mentioned. It gave me a glimpse of what matters most to them.
I think in coming years, I’ll spend a little more of my time focusing on these things that matter most as we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Our Lewis Family Traditions
Stockings first, then presents
Sticky buns for breakfast Christmas morning
Not going down until after 9:00 a.m.
Eating out on Christmas Eve
Sub for Santa shopping
Putting up lights on the house and bushes
Hanging ornaments on the tree
Fruit in our stockings
Doorbell ditching gifts for others
Reading the scriptures on Christmas Eve
The Christmas countdown calendar
Christmas Eve Family History gifts
Shopping for a real tree
Setting up a million Nativities
Mexican food on Christmas Eve
Special family gifts on Christmas Eve
Staying in bed until 9:00!
Lounge clothes on Christmas
German Weinachtspyramide with candles
The “wrapping room” and a hidden key
Dad and the video camera Christmas morning
Writing a letter to Santa every year
Getting a return note from Santa telling us how good we were and what to do better (practice the piano more!)
Christmas Eve, the house was always only lit by candles and the spinning Weinachtspyramide
Looking through the hole in the banister to see the gifts
Each of us had our own place to open our gifts
We always have a live Christmas tree and decorate it together
Sticky buns Christmas morning
Amazing stockings with fruit in the toe
Mom’s Christmas Eve presents for us are The Best
Cookies: Spritz, Braetzlie, Snowballs
Delivering Soup to our older neighbors
Doorbell ditching Christmas gifts
Mexican food on Christmas Eve
Setting up the Nativities
Delivering Nativity pieces each night to other families (doorbell ditching)
Searching for the wrapping room key
Doing a puzzle on Christmas Day and timing how long it takes
Reading the Nativity Story in the Bible
Reenacting the Nativity as a family with costumes
Mom’s special family history Christmas Eve gifts to the kids
Awesome, overflowing Christmas stockings
Nativity Collection Display
Picking out a live tree as a family
Video taping the kids as they come down the stairs at 9:00 a.m.
Live tree with special ornaments from all over the world
Setting up dozens of international Nativities from our travels
An overnight trip to Salt Lake, staying in a hotel with the kids, shopping and eating out
Going out for Mexican food on Christmas Eve
Reading and acting out the Nativity Story Christmas Eve
Special Family History gifts for each child Christmas Eve
Letters to Santa, treats for the reindeer
Wrapping every single gift in the stockings
Stolen and hot cocoa on cold nights
Sacred Christmas Music starting the day after Halloween
Lots of children’s Christmas books
Now we’ve added Heidi and Graham to our family!
Family vacations rather than gifts every couple of years
Gift exchange themes: “the gift that keeps giving” or “a gift of an experience”
Sub for Santa delivering
No presents wrapped!
Visiting the Live Nativity in the Calgary Heritage Park
Chinese take-out on Christmas Eve so mom didn’t have to cook
Special dishes. The mugs had little pictures that would uncover as you drank from them
Sundance Lake Christmas Party and skating
Little Town model game
Secret Santa gifts
Skiing on Christmas Day (when I was the only child left at home)