In a few days, we will be celebrating Christmas. Many of us would be traveling to be with family and friends. It is a very special time of the year, and I am so glad that our lives cross other lives and together we celebrate the joy of being together, as family, friends or even strangers. The spirit of the season is so riveting and the joy with which children make the best of the season is what makes it all worthwhile.
I was chatting with a group of friends the other day and one of the things we talked about was family Christmas traditions. That sounded a little strange to me because I don’t remember any family tradition at Christmas when I was growing up. I remember that on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we went to church, and upon our return, had some food, which was usually rice with chicken stew, a bottle of soda, crackers, and candy. For many of our neighbors, the bottle of soda was the only soda that they had in a year.
One of them asked if we (my siblings and I) received gifts. Indeed, we received Christmas gifts, but these were typically clothes or shoes, and we usually got them before Christmas so we could wear them to Church on Christmas Day. Apart from that, there was nothing like wrapping gifts, putting them under a Christmas tree, exchanging the gifts, and unwrapping them on Boxing Day.
I shared that story in another conversation about Christmas traditions with a friend, who then shared her family Christmas tradition with me. Her family exchanged gifts on Boxing Day, and not on Christmas Day, and when the family relocated to the United States, they kept their tradition of wrapping gifts, putting them under a Christmas Tree, exchanging the gifts, and unwrapping them on Boxing Day, and not on Christmas Day. Although her family now live in different places across this country, they have largely kept to that Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts on Boxing Day.
The idea of keeping to that tradition of exchanging gifts on Boxing Day sounded intriguing. In spite of what their American neighbors did, they stuck to their tradition. The story reminded me of the extent to which tradition shapes and influences our lives;-we get used to a particular way of doing things, and so long as we find great value in it, we stick to it - no matter what.
Although my family didn’t have a Christmas tradition, I do have one now. On Christmas Day, my children wake up very early in the morning and unwrap their gifts. It is always a joy to see the excitement on their faces - especially when they get the stuff that they asked for. And no matter how old they are, they still scream when they unwrap their gifts.
Christ Church has many Christmas traditions - one of which is the Angel Tree. A few days ago, on behalf of Christ Church, some of our Outreach team prepared all the items that many of you donated and sent them to the Salvation Army to be given to the twelve assigned children. Like my children and many others, these 12 could now have wrapped gifts under their Christmas trees - if that might be their tradition, too. I am thankful that, with your generous support, we helped their Christmas tradition come alive.
If I may ask - are you alone this Christmas? What is your Christmas tradition? Are you planning on being with your family? Have you purchased all your gifts? Do you have them wrapped and ready for the Christmas tree?
For me, the wonderful thing about Christmas is the tradition that each family develops and keeps over time. It is the tradition that holds and binds a family together so that even in times when we have lost family members, are far from our families, or perhaps estranged from others within our families, we may still remember the tradition that once connected us and renewed our love for one another.
For all the commercialization of Christmas, the underpinning reality is that the ability to give and receive gifts is at the heart of what Christmas is about. We gather to celebrate Christmas because God gave God’s self to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And we gather to celebrate Christmas because we faithfully received the gift of Jesus Christ that God gave to us. And with our gifts to each other, we express that same spirit of giving and receiving as a representation of the very first act of God.
I am very grateful for this community of faith and all it represents. I am grateful for the gift of you - God’s masterpiece. I am grateful for the gift of your families and the joy you all bring to this place. I am grateful for your faithfulness. I am grateful for the Christmas traditions you hold dear and the ones that connect you with your loved ones and many others. I am grateful to God for everything.
Although it has been a difficult year, I’d like to add that despite all our challenges, this Christmas will be special because you chose to honor your loved ones and others. You chose to remember and to hold on to the joy of a Christmas tradition - the joy of giving and receiving the unquenchable gift of love.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas.