By Linda Gilden
“What? No vegetable soup?” screeched my daughter as she lifted the lid on the Dutch oven. Everyone in the room turned around to stare.
“We aren’t having vegetable soup?”
“We’ve had vegetable soup every Christmas Eve since I can remember. What happened?”
“Then what is in the vegetable soup pot?”
Sheepishly I answered, “I thought we would have pot roast this year.” Obviously not a good choice.
There is nothing that says Christmas like a time-honored tradition—something you have done over and over and is as much a part of Christmas as holly and wassail. Traditions make us feel like we are a part of an elite and close-knit group.
Holidays are memory makers. Many people have activities that have continued through generations of Christmases: decorating the Christmas tree, hanging a wreath on the door, putting candles in the windows, wrapping presents, and more. Could this be the year to introduce a new tradition or two? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
For Family & Friends
• Find a time when all the family is together and take a photo to be used on a Christmas card. For some families Thanksgiving afternoon works well. For others it may be a family wedding or summer vacation. Do this every year and you will build an automatic “Christmas through the years” album.
• Have a Christmas tree campout. Bring blankets and pillows to the decorated tree and have everyone get comfortable. Ask Mom, Dad, or grandparents to tell stories of their favorite Christmases. Then let children share what their favorite Christmas memory is or suggest something new they would like to do.
• Designate a time to make gingerbread houses with friends of all ages. You don’t even need gingerbread. Create houses out of graham cracker squares held together by icing. Provide small candy buttons, gumdrops, pretzel sticks, marshmallows, and any other candies for decorations.
• Set out the nativity together. The nativity has a very special place in our home. It sits on top of the piano, usually long after the holly has died and the tinsel put away. The children and grandchildren help with the arrangement of the figures. As they are placed, we tell the story of each one. The figures go beyond the traditional shepherds and Magi. The kids’ favorite is one who lives in the box marked “man with headache.” He is a beautiful figure who holds his hat in one hand and his other hand is on his head. Every year he has a different reason for his headache and why he is going to see Jesus. Whoever takes him out of the box tries to make the story a better one than last year.
• Pile in a vehicle and take a holiday lights tour. Most years the news will report where the most and brightest lights are. Some provide walk-through experiences and refreshments.
• If your family is musical, form a cousins’ orchestra for the extended holiday gathering. Send music early so everyone can practice their vocal or instrumental parts, but don’t count on that happening. At our house the most fun part of the evening is the orchestra practice. Watching the videos was even more fun because the two trees beside the piano would turn the lights on when you clapped. Each time a certain frequency was played, the lights blinked!
• Do you have family or friends living far away who can’t get home for Christmas? Plan to have them with you through Skype or Facetime. You can watch them open the gifts you sent and they can do the same.
• Why not involve someone new in your Christmas celebration? Perhaps you have a neighbor who has no plans for Christmas dinner. Maybe you have a friend at church or work who doesn’t have any extended family in the area and can’t travel home for the holidays. Including others in your celebration increases the joy for you and makes your visitors feel the warmth and love of Jesus.
• Stay in touch. Share news, pictures, and prayers with people near and far through email or social media. End with a short Advent devotional thought.
• Is there someone in your church or neighborhood who doesn’t get out a lot or is completely homebound? Purchase an inexpensive Christmas tree with lights, visit this person, and set up the tree while singing Christmas carols. Wrap a few brightly colored presents to put under the tree before you leave.
• Do you know a single person who might enjoy some family time? Invite him or her to join you and your kids to bake cookies.
• Many family movies are released in December. Invite a newly made friend to head to the theater with you.
• If you don’t have children of your own, maybe you could borrow a few for a day. Locate a single mom or dad in your church and offer to babysit so he or she could go Christmas shopping or just have a few minutes alone. Take the children to a holiday-themed community event.
• Though the Christmas calendar quickly fills, why not find time to volunteer at the local soup kitchen?
For the Birthday Boy
• Take advantage of every opportunity to mention to friends the reason you celebrate Christmas.
• Ask Jesus to show you ways you can make the celebration of his birth special. Pray for friends who do not know him. What a wonderful Christmas present to introduce them to Jesus.
• Have a birthday cake for Jesus at one of your meals close to Christmas.
• Focus on the Christmas story. Recite it together each night and by Christmas you can recite it from memory. We have a set of dishes that has the Christmas story written around the rim. Part of our Christmas dinner includes putting the plates and story in the proper sequence. You might write the Christmas story on slips of paper and put one at each person’s place. They will have fun putting the sentences in proper order.
• During the month of December we often dress up to attend special programs and parties. But it is not necessary to dress up to be in the presence of Jesus. What is on the inside is beautiful to him. Do you need to make an adjustment in some areas of your life that are out of balance? Spend time with him today and ask him the question: What can I do to be more beautiful to you inside and out?
Christmas comes every year. But the most wonderful thing about Christmas is that we don’t have to wait until December to celebrate. We can and should celebrate Jesus every day of the year. In fact, every day that we celebrate him, every time we tell someone else about his saving sacrifice, every time we sing praises to him, it’s Christmas no matter what the calendar says!
Linda Gilden is the author of Mama Was the Queen of Christmas and other books (LindaGilden.com).