14 December 2011

To Christmas or not to Christmas

I have such fond memories of the holidays growing up.  Most of those memories are set at my grandparents' houses, mostly sitting around the dining room table eating great food.  Christmas Eve at Grandma Jones' house was a little less traditional and a little more chaotic. We ate something different each year, from tacos to sandwiches to ham roast, with the standard eight to ten different kinds of homemade pie. The tree was always real, because my grandpa worked the Christmas season at his friend's Christmas tree farm (it's an Oregon thing), and usually at least one of the gifts under the tree was wrapped in garbage bags or the comics.  Christmas at Grandma Adams' house was traditional and beautiful.  I remember the glittery antique ornaments on the tree, and perfectly wrapped gifts underneath.  We usually ate turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and all that great traditional food. 

I have especially fond memories of one Christmas Eve when we packed into the car for the drive from Grandma Jones in Newberg to Grandma Adams in Astoria (about 2 hours' drive) in the middle of the night.  My brother, sister and I fell asleep, of course, but I remember waking up to the sounds of Amy Grant's Christmas album as we pulled onto Grandma's street.  I loved that "Tennessee Christmas" tape.

As my siblings and cousins and I got older, there were more adaptations to the Christmas traditions.  We got older, presents became less important and we were more distracted by plans with friends.  The "Tennessee Christmas" tape got lost, and I personally became less interested in "non-Jesus" Christmas traditions like gift giving and Christmas music (aside from those amazing Christmas hymns).  Now I'm in a position to re-evaluate Christmas traditions, and I'm not sure what to do.  Christmas in Africa is quite different from the States, since the Christians here haven't really picked up the "extra" stuff that clutters our American Christmases.  Plus there's no snow here (obviously), no Christmas trees or ornaments, and very few of the traditional Christmas foods I remember from Grandma Adams' dinner table.  No Christmas cookies or stockings, very little gift-giving.  There's a whole lot of church associated with celebrating Christmas, but not so much the Christmas carols and nativity plays, more like the usual service, just three times longer.

Being a new wife, I feel like this is the year to start Christmas traditions for our family, but I simply don't know what to do.  Things like an Advent countdown and paper chains seem like kid things that are impossible to explain to Innocent.  Snowflakes and Christmas trees and stockings mean nothing to anyone but me, and seem kind of silly to explain to Fred.  Christmas cookies and other special food is pretty impossible to deliver on.  The thought of trying to come up with a special Christmas tradition and pull it off somehow seems...daunting.  All that combined with financial strain and baby preparation makes me want to opt out of Christmas this year, but the idea of sitting around watching movies and eating rice and beans on 25 December doesn't appeal either. 

How does one truly honor the beautiful miracle of Jesus' birth?  What's left after the sentiment and cultural traditions are stripped away?  Or, maybe, is there room for some nostalgia and warm fuzzies mixed in with Jesus?  Help me out, people!  How do you honor Jesus' birth in your family?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally remember the Amy Grant tapes...although I'm probably going to date my family even more by saying ours was a record! :)
I don't know that I have much advice except to say that Christmas didn't change too much when we started to have kids...except in the way I perceived this special holiday. It meant more to me to get my kids excited for Christmas and to cook a huge feast for my husband. This year is the 2nd year in a row that we will be celebrating it by ourselves with no family. :( I can only say, that by swallowing myself up with preparations and my kids' excitement is the best (if you can call it that) I can do. Its hard to not have the traditional "noisy, large gatherings with LOTS of food and gifts" and to celebrate in "quiet, still more food than our family can eat in one sitting-Christmas".
Maybe try talking to Fred and see what traditions and memories he has growing up and see if there is some kind of compromise and joining of traditions you can do. You can still try to have a tree, even if it looks like a Charlie Brown tree. For me, I'm learning that there is a lot more to Christmas than just the commercialization of the holiday, its more in spending time with family (immediate or otherwise) and sharing those memories, and making new ones with my kids. The gifts, while nice and sometimes needed, are just a vessel for spending more time together. It doesn't matter if the tradition is watching a movie (I remember doing that every Christmas Eve with my dad's side of the family) or playing a game or just sitting and reading the Bible. Hugs and prayers to you! I can only imagine how hard it must be to be overseas from family at this time of year.