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photo: Martha G. Brady

photo: Martha G. Brady

This week I am not posting my usual Five Minute Friday post because the word for today is Prepare and the post is so much like the post I wrote for last Sunday that it didn’t seem worth repeating. 

Between new babies at church (we had 5 in 2 weeks including a set of twins with many more to come!), getting ready for Christmas and other assorted activities…life has been busy for sure! We’re also getting ready for some Christmas travel and a group of grands that we don’t see as often. This post is part of my December series I have been doing called Getting Ready for Christmas!


There is nothing more traditional than Christmas for all of us….even the most untraditional families. Christmas seems to be full of tradition. The interesting thing about our traditions, particularly if we haven’t lived many places, is that we think everyone does things like we do.

Think of the many Christmas carols that have been around for hundreds of years…or at least many, many decades. We sing them every year and if we are old enough, have managed to learn the words to them over time!

The traditions of Christmas extend to the foods we eat, on which days; the presents we do or don’t give; the songs we sing; the music we listen to; the considerable variety of things we do to observe Christmas. If you sit down to write all your traditions out, the list can get very long!

Our journey into diversity in Christmas traditions

It didn’t take long for us to realize how much variety there truly is in the way people celebrate this season. When we married, our personal family traditions were very different. Ron’s tradition was mostly Norwegian from his mother’s side of the family. They had a big dinner on Christmas Eve and opened most of their gifts together then with extended family. It was quite orderly.

The children passed out the gifts and everyone took a turn opening a gift, admiring it/enjoying the person’s reception of their gift. On Christmas morning, they opened their stockings and had one gift from Santa waiting for them. The day was spent playing with toys and eating of course, sometimes at other places, but often at home with family.

In our family, everything happened on Christmas Day. All the presents were opened, stockings and the big present from Santa. It was all on Christmas day. It was crazy and chaotic. It was all over in about 5 minutes…except for Christmas dinner. The parents were worn out from getting up too early…staying up too late the night before. And it showed all day. They didn’t enjoy Christmas much usually. They were too tired.

The excitement was way too much for us. We could hardly get to sleep at night on Christmas Eve. We woke up way too early on Christmas morning and we were tired all day. Neither parents nor kids got along well and were easily provoked. We also played with toys and new games all day but the fun of giving a gift was lost on us. The wild mayhem of opening gifts went so fast that we hardly knew what happened with anyone but ourselves. There was no joy in giving. We had no awareness of what anyone else received. All we noticed was what we didn’t receive…but we were intelligent enough to keep our mouths shut.

Planning traditions is a good start

When Ron and I married…and started our own traditions, we put a lot of thought into not only the “what’s” of our traditions, but the “why’s”.

Personally, I didn’t want to start my Christmas mornings at the crack of dawn. So I was all too happy to take on Ron’s Norwegian traditions. We added in reading the Christmas story together before opening the gifts. Our Christmas Eves usually involved pizza together as we were finishing gift wrapping and other last minute Christmas errands.  That is, on the years we weren’t in churches that had Christmas Eve services. That often had to be worked into the evening’s schedule as well!

Build in flexibility to your traditions

There is a funny thing about traditions. They can be comfortable and remind us of good times as well as bring back wonderful memories. They can remind us of the reason for the original celebration. But there is something else about traditions. They can become rigid. Instead of being comfortable and flexible, they become binding. Every letter of the tradition has to be maintained.

I’m not sure those are the kinds of traditions that work best.

For one reason or other, there are some traditions that need to change or be adjusted with time. As time passes, we need to tweak them a bit here and there to meet the needs of our family.

One that comes to mind is the birthday cake for Jesus. It is a great visual for small children and helps them understand that the focus for presents needs to not be on them. But when kids are in high school, that may no longer be a helpful tradition…it could be, but it might be that this will be a time when another tradition will be more helpful to them in picturing a more adult version of who Jesus is and why He came.

For the teen or college student, doing an outreach project together as a family or doing one with a group the teen studies with or goes to church with may be one tradition that will develop.  There are so many ways to be creative both for you as a family or for your child with their gifts. The important thing is for rigid traditions not to get in the way of newer ones that are needed to make this season one of blessing to others as well as make it a more meaningful time for your child(ren) or family member(s).

So, as you think about your traditions, don’t just think about what they are. think about why you do them, how you carry them out and if they are as meaningful to the rest of your family as they are to you. I had some that meant a lot to me and meant almost nothing to my kids. So I had to do some adjusting.

It seemed that whenever we moved, there often had to be some tweaks to our traditions…not always ones I wanted to make, but they had to be made just the same!

It is important to remember, especially when you first marry and decide which traditions from which family you will keep and which you will need to lay aside, that for the most part, there is no right/wrong involved in these traditions. Different is neither inferior or superior. It is simply different.

Don’t get in fights or power struggles over which tradition you will keep and which you will jettison. Take time to think through, pray about and discuss preferences.

What traditions have you developed in your family surrounding Christmas?

Are they different from those of your upbringing or the same?

Are you keeping some outdated traditions that are no longer useful to you or your family?