It’s been more than a decade since I celebrated Christmas “the old way”. The way I grew up. The way I remember it: we would gather everybody: kids, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends on Christmas Eve. The gathering was big. The gathering was loud. I would even say chaotic. Lots of shouting and laughing. Sometimes you could hardly hear anybody because of the noise. We’d be playing games, eating food, watching tv, talking; all simultaneously.
Then close to midnight, everyone would get quiet. Gather around the Christmas tree. Turn down the lights except those on the tree. We would sing Christmas carols together. Take turns sharing our favorite family stories, or moments we were thankful for. We would end with a Happy Birthday song to Jesus. To celebrate His birth.
Finally, it would be time to open Christmas presents.
First we’d pass them out. No opening!
The aunties made sure there was at least one present for everybody in the crowd. (Even if it was just a new pair of socks).
And we would each open A present. One present. One person at a time. With 20-30 people, this took a while. But each person was celebrated. And the gift they received was celebrated too. From youngest to oldest or vice versa.
Our family never had a lot of money. But somehow there was always one person in the family who got something awesome. Super thoughtful. And there were always tears shed. Either during our Christmas carol worship. Or during the stories. Or during the gift giving.
I remember those Christmases so fondly! And sometimes I seriously grieve the loss of the old way. I miss those Christmas traditions!
Several tragedies piled up. The loss of a newborn baby cousin, broken relationships, my auntie died. She was sort of the matriarch in the family; the one who hosted most of those Christmas gatherings. And then the loss of my mother. Life changed. Christmas changed.
And those years when I wished that I could bring my family of a few to the family gathering of many filled me with sadness. I wanted to share my joy and just be together. But the tradition of the big happy family gathering on Christmas Eve was just gone. No matter how hard we tried to keep it going.
I realized that I needed to create my own family traditions. I didn’t want new traditions. But the thing about traditions is that they just happen. You look back and your eyes see that you’ve created a tradition!
“Do something more than once, it becomes a tradition”.
This year, I see that we do have a few Lueck Family Traditions.
1. We get a tree. At the lot by Jack-in-the-box. It’s not a cut-down in the forest, but it is us. We love our lot. We love our tree. We take a few days to decorate it. One year, when things were tight, we splurged for a tiny 1 1/2 footer. So cute. Fresh pine smells.
2. The kids decorate the tree. If I touch it, I get stressed and possessive of where to place ornaments. In fact, some years I have left the room to let the boys decorate in their boy way. There is a rough and tumble in the air that I never experienced in my all-girl upbringing. To this day, I kind of resist it. But those rough and tumble boys take their time looking at all the ornaments and ask questions about where they came from and I see us building a tradition.
3. We play with the ornaments.
Shocked? Me too! This one might not keep forever, but during Christmastime, I will catch a boy, almost every day, holding an ornament in another part of the house. 😱. These are not the plastic, unbreakable ornaments. Our 3 year old was literally inside the fridge while tenderly holding his new favorite ornament. Trying to hide himself and his ornament in the fridge. Our 6 year old was standing on the windowsill one day, rearranging ornaments on the top of the tree. Just for fun. The tree almost fell. Our 9 year old was reading a book in his room while dangling the ornament he made in kindergarten. This behavior confuses me but also delights the inner child in me.
4. We never know what Christmas will look like. Will we travel? Will we stay home? Who will we invite? Who will we visit? It has become a tradition that we “mix it up” every year. Which works for us! My spontaneous husband appreciates no pressure to create something spectacular every year, although I always want to create something spectacular. (Darn you Pinterest.) We kind of wing it. In fact this is so much of a “tradition” in our family, there’s even a saying for it. We call it “Lueck style”. We never know what to expect but we roll with it and appreciate it. (The guys are way better at this than me!) Christmas is not the same anymore. It’s never the same and that is our tradition!
5. Focus on Jesus. We talk about Jesus in all the symbols of Christmas. Christmas lights remind us that Jesus, the light of the world came to save us. Christmas welcome wreaths remind us that God welcomes us into His family as his children. Presents given and received remind us of the gift Jesus gave us of His very own life. We sing about Jesus.
There are so many ways to remember and focus on Jesus, the joy of Christmas. Jesus goes beyond Christmas to become the hope of our entire life. Not just a holiday.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. John 1:18.
And with Jesus I am new. Jesus makes me new. And Jesus makes Christmas new for me every year. If Christmas is different this year for you– maybe you’ve lost a loved one, job, relationship status, home, or anything– be encouraged! Jesus is in the business of new beginnings. Just as He gave me new Christmas traditions, He can give you joy. Give him your heart of grief and he will give you hope. He starts a new tradition of life in you and me. Merry Christmas! And a happy new year!