Christmas has become a celebration of a lot of things. Many have written articles or blogs in this season on the meaning of Christmas, but I just want to share some of the traditions that I love from my family. Some of these go back generations, and some of them just a couple decades.
As a pastor’s kid, Christmas really started on December 24. The whole day was spent at church, helping to set up for a service, serving in some way during, or just spending time with everyone else that was involved. It was a whole day celebration with a focus on “good tidings of great joy”. That is what the angels say to the shepherds when they share the message of the birth of their saviour who is Christ the Lord. I always loved how these services gave us an opportunity to be a part of the shepherds’ experience of hearing the news, experiencing Jesus, and then spreading the story to all around!
One of my favorite traditions is the reciting of Luke 2. My mother’s entire family has adopted, and passed on, the practice of reciting the story of Jesus’ birth. From the census decree by Caesar, to Mary’s pondering all in her heart, we tell and relive the incredible story of the birth of our saviour. As children, we took characters from the nativity scene and acted out the story as we recited it. There is such an investment each new member makes in memorizing the story. It is a beautiful way of establishing the importance, and remembering what we are celebrating. When we are with my Papa, he always makes time at this point to share the new revelation he has received as he has reflected on this story. He then invites us to do the same. It is incredible how much there is to learn from this one story, how much God reveals through this one narrative.
I remember, when I was a teenager (probably younger as well), the year when it was just my family together for Christmas. We spent time in prayer, praising God and thanking Jesus for coming. This took on more meaning the more I came to know Jesus.
My family has always exchanged Christmas presents. Some years it has been physical gifts, and other years experiences to share together. We always take turns and rejoice in the gifts the others receive. I am only realizing now how important that part was. We could have all opened at once, but how important it is to learn to rejoice for other people and not just in what we receive.
I grew up thousands of kilometers from the closest family. I loved the years we got to be with them, but I also loved the years where we stayed in Halifax. Every year we were in Halifax, we had a table full of people. Some people made our table home for many Christmas feasts, and some were people we just met the day before. We had one of those big, old-school, wooden tables you can fit 12+ people around. (I think we added another table and got over 20 once.) As a child, I loved being at the table with all of these people who were family to us. We were all celebrating Jesus together. I was often the youngest at the table invited fully into all of the conversation and merriment. I loved these meals. I loved the inclusion. It was an invitation to come and celebrate with us the good news that “unto us a child is given… and he is Christ the Lord”.
Recently I have adopted another tradition. I love going to a Catholic midnight mass on Christmas Eve. There is something about joining in with millions around the world, and millions who have passed on, in a liturgical celebration of the birth of Jesus. The antiquity of this tradition gives such richness to the celebration. It makes me feel as though I am joining in with all the saints in worshiping the King of kings.
There is no one way to celebrate Jesus at Christmas. There are many beautiful traditions (and feel free to comment with some of your own), but in all of it, Jesus is the one we are celebrating. As we go through our celebrations, creating new tradition, and maintaining old ones, let us place Jesus at the center of it all. Let’s take time throughout the day to receive and be thankful for the gift he gave us in his birth. I am thankful for the thought my parents, grandparents, and generations before put into traditions established in my Christmases and I am thankful that I am able to put thought into celebrating this holiday also.
May you have a very Merry Christmas! May you rejoice in the presence of God, and celebrate the good news with the angels and the shepherds that Christ our saviour is born!