Holiday Traditions (Part 2): Family-Based Traditions

Tim Jackson —  December 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

In my previous post, I covered some faith-based traditions that my wife and I have celebrated in our home over the past 35 Christmas holiday seasons together. Some are from her home, some are from my home, and the rest we borrowed from friends, extended family, and books we’d read about making Christmas a joyous celebration for the whole family.

I put these traditions under two additional categories: family-based and fun-based traditions.

Family-Based Traditions

In our family, we give gifts to each other to remind us of the greatest gift of all, Jesus. But gift giving can become a major distraction from God’s greatest gift to us. However, while my wife and I decided that we wanted to give gifts within the family, we were concerned that we and our children not get sucked into the commercialized materialistic deluge of Christmas gifts on Christmas morning. In our efforts to address the pitfalls that gift giving can bring, we adopted a tradition from my wife’s family of a 9-day Christmas celebration starting on Christmas Eve and ending on New Year’s Day. My wife spent part of her childhood in a predominantly Jewish New England neighborhood. It was the 8-day festival of lights, Hanukkah, that inspired her parents’ decision to spread out the holiday to give more time for celebration, reflection, and taking advantage of after-Christmas sales on a limited budget.

The week of celebration made our time together more manageable and meaningful. The focus wasn’t all on one day, which can be overwhelming. Because we live in the Midwest and our extended families are spread all up and down the Eastern US (from Maine to Alabama), gifts from extended family were parceled out to one per day throughout the week. It may have been something as small as a book or matchbox car. Phone calls were made to thank family for their gifts but more to reconnect and chat than anything. There were several gifts on Christmas day but no overwhelming gift dump.

Finding the right gift for someone can be an exercise in sheer consumerism. Or it can be a reminder of how God knows our hearts and delights in giving “good gifts” to His children (Matt. 7:11). We try not to focus on the gifts, but to delight in giving “good gifts” throughout the year that are symbolized by the gifts we give at Christmas.

Fun-Based Traditions

One of the fun traditions my kids have enjoyed (and, truth be told, so have I) is the reading of the timeless poem The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. I memorized it for a sixth grade Christmas play and started reciting it to my kids just prior to bedtime on Christmas Eve when they were just little tikes. I’d act it out with different voices and whistles, and add a few Jacksonian modifications of my own. It was fun for all.

I later learned that the author was a renowned professor of Oriental and Greek Literature who was most proud of his great work A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language. However, it was his venture into the wonder of make-believe with a whimsical poem written for his children’s entertainment in 1814 that he is best known. A theologian and a whimsical poet! Now that’s a winning combination in my book. We discovered that the poem, presented as make-believe and not as fact, added a delightful sparkle and playful wonder to our Christmas.

Another fun tradition is singing. We sing a lot of Christmas carols around the holidays. But The Twelve Days of Christmas has become a favorite in our home.  Not only is it a fun song to sing in a round with many participating voices, but it’s also fraught with history that’s eluded most of us. That’s where Ace Collins has been very helpful. We’ve enjoyed exploring his two volumes, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas and Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. They have been informative and delightful resources that add context, history, and enjoyment to many of the cherished songs and traditions surrounding our Christmas celebrations.

Christmas movies have also become a tradition over the years. Our video library includes favorites such as Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas that I grew up watching with my family. But there are newer movies that we’ve included over time. Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express and Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story are now favorites. The Nativity Story has been especially beneficial in helping us visualize what that first Christmas Day was like for the young Jewish couple chosen to introduce the Savior into the world.

These are some of the fun Christmas traditions our family has enjoyed throughout the years. They’ve worked for us. Feel free to borrow some to see what works for you. No matter what you do, I encourage you to be intentional about creating some traditions for your family that provide familiar anchor points for the generations that follow.

Now it’s your turn to share. What are some family-based or fun-based Christmas traditions you’ve found meaningful in your family as you were growing up or that you’ve started in your family as a parent? Let’s learn and be encouraged by one another to celebrate the richness of Jesus’ birth and the hope of restoration that He brings.

Tim Jackson

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Tim Jackson is married to his college sweetheart, Cole. They have 3 adult children. Tim is the producer for the HelpForMyLife.org website, writes Discover Series booklets on a variety of counseling issues and hosts webinars for RBC Ministries. He's also the founder and president of Still Waters Counseling & Equipping Ministries, PC, a local counseling practice serving individuals, couples and families. When not in the office, you will probably find him up a tree with a bow, in a duck blind or fly fishing on one of Michigan's many rivers.

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