The joy of Christmas traditions


Over the past few months, one of the main topics of conversation around our dinner table has become the topic of traditions, especially, Christmas traditions. Christmas has been in years past the one time of the year for our family when we “do” the traditions. For example, every year on Christmas Eve, Dad makes his “famous” Bohemian Stew, taking all day to make it, and the whole family sits down to eat this traditional Christmas Eve meal right before we head off to our church’s Christmas Eve service.

Another tradition is that we open our gifts all on Christmas Eve. Now this all started for two reasons: First, when our daughter was little, we decided we would open the gifts on Christmas morning, like most “normal” people do. But on the first Christmas she was old enough to enjoy it, our little girl sat in the middle of all her opened presents and cried. She didn’t know which one to open first. Second, when her mother, my bride, was a child, she used to get so excited about Christmas that she would find the wrapped presents (which were well hidden), carefully unwrap the ones with her name on them, play with them for a while, then re-wrap them as carefully as possible to avoid detection. Then on Christmas morning, she would open her presents with glee and energy and excitement, as if for the first time. Her parents later confirmed that story, saying they knew all along what she was doing.

Knowing all this, when our children were small, we began a sort of “Twelve Days” tradition, which lasted as long as the kids were little, where we would let them open one present each night for about a week before Christmas. They enjoyed this very well, and we continued that as long as they were little.

One of the most traditional of traditions for us is that, as we were finishing decorating our Christmas tree each year, our youngest son always was entitled the privilege of putting the angel on the tree – the very highest ornament on the top of the tree. When he was younger, he would have to sit on my shoulders to reach the top of the tree. As long as he was living in our home, even while in college, he still wanted to continue that tradition.

Another tradition we honored for many years while our children were still living under our roof is the tradition of going out as a family to cut down our own live tree. This experience usually occurred on Thanksgiving weekend, and we have some great stories to tell about these adventures. Like the time when we were bringing our tree home when all of a sudden the tree appeared on the road behind us, having fallen off the roof in a big gust of wind. Or the other time when we spent five hours driving all over southern Ohio looking for a Christmas tree. My kids will never let me forget that one.

On one of those annual family tree-cutting expeditions, we found just the right tree, cut it down, and brought it home, and began the process of putting up the tree. As I attempted to put the tree stand on the bottom of the tree, I found that I could not get it to stand up straight, no matter how much I trimmed and cut the trunk. It seemed that the more I cut the more crooked it got. Finally I got the tree to where I thought it would do all right, and moved it into our living room. We decorated the tree, only to discover the next day that the floor all around the tree was wet. It turns out that that crooked old tree was leaning, and even though I had tightened the tree stand to hold it up straight, the tree was so bent toward leaning that finally the plastic stand cracked, and all the water leaked out onto the brand new carpet. No amount of ornaments and tinsel and even fishing line ties to the window behind the tree would hold it up straight. Oh, it looked beautiful, but deep down inside, that tree was gnarled and twisted and crooked to the core.

I cannot help but make the comparison: that Christmas tree is so very much like the lives we all tend to lead. On the outside we all like to show how nice and “perfect” our lives are. We are all decorated up and pretty good looking. We shout “Ho! Ho! Ho!” with the best of them. But on the inside our lives are all snarled up in disappointment, discouragement, fear, frustration, anger and bitterness. It does not matter about why we are like that. Any reason will do: job situations, finances, family relationships, school, and elections, even global warming. If we are honest with ourselves, as we look within, we even see that stuff in there that the Bible calls “sin.”

But the Christmas story is not only about sharing and caring and all that mushy-gushy stuff that we watch ad nauseum on all the television specials. It is not even about God seeing how nice we are and coming down to spend time with us because we are so nice. No, Christmas is the story of God seeing how twisted and utterly messed up and sinful our lives are, and then coming down here to live and die for us. This is truly a story of love. Yes, it began with a baby being born, but this story does not end until the message of Easter has been told – the message of that sweet baby Jesus growing and living and then taking our sins upon Himself and dying on the cross as our substitute. The message of Christmas is a message of love – God’s love for you and for me.

No matter what traditions you share this Christmas, don’t forget to share that message of love.

God bless…

Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.

Chuck Tabor

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