by Judy Allen
Dan and I do not remember our first Christmas together. Still newlyweds, we were loving life and loving each other, working at challenging jobs, and our families were both out of the area.
I was surprised to find the Christmas cards we wrote to each other that year in a bag of memorabilia. Dan had written: “This is one of the best Christmases of my life.”
Dan and I chuckled as we tried to remember that Christmas. No luck. I’m sure we went to church, put up a tree, exchanged gifts, probably made some cookies and went to a party or two. At the time, it was the best Christmas ever.
Our Christmas celebrations have grown literally as our family grew and in meaning as our faith expanded, and looking back, I don’t remember fatigue, stress, drama, or difficulty, although I’m sure they were regular features of Christmas preparation. Memory has a way of losing track of troubles and bringing smiles to the forefront.
Building Family Years
As our family and faith grew, Christmas blossomed into a time of wonder. There is nothing like watching young children wake up excitedly (and way too early) on Christmas morning ready to tear into their gifts under the tree and check out their stockings full of goodies. We needed caffeine, after a long night of stuffing stockings and putting gifts together, but it was well worth it.
Traditions were built during those years. I took many of them from my parents, and we made a few of our own. Decorating the tree, making cookies, decorating the house, hosting holiday events, writing and receiving Christmas cards all became traditions. They weren’t particularly profound or even different, but it was what we did every December, and it was good.
Abundant Growing Years
As our children got older, and gifts got more interesting and expensive, Christmas celebrations did too. Christmas programs at church, Christmas dinners for adults and Christmas parties at school filled up our days. Long lists of gift ideas were the stuff of those years, and the space under the tree wasn’t near big enough for all the gifts.
Our siblings were in the same stage, so family events were characterized by crazy children (literally) running around, making a mess, and the noise level was intense. We didn’t care. It was family; it was Christmas; it was joyful!
The stress of the season was still present, and family health problems and loss made the holidays rough sometimes. But it was still a time of abundance. Loads of joy, a few tears, lots of cookies, too many gifts, and oodles of excitement are my memories of those years. It was still Christmas.
Blessed Next Generation Years
Of course, our children, nieces and nephews all grew up. They went to college, about half of them are married, and they are building their own families. For the last six years, we have transitioned from giving each other gifts – a.k.a exchanging gift cards – to arranging a yearly family get together. The best time to do this was often Thanksgiving, so it was lovingly called Thanksgiftsmas.
My three siblings and I each take a turn arranging the weekend, and we’ve played bocce followed by a lovely Swedish dinner, rented a big house in Michigan, took a trip to Boston during which my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, went to Wisconsin on a beer crawl, and served together at Feed My Starving Children. This year we all went to New Hampshire to attend my niece’s wedding.
The memories from these weekends have been infinitely more meaningful than a sweater, electronics, boots, or whatever would have been wrapped up instead.
Blessed is how I would characterize these years. We genuinely like each other, enjoy spending time together, and all four generations celebrate with love for each other. I thank God for the blessing of a loving family that has grown into several loving families.
My mom, who knows how to pray, says she thanks God every day for the blessing of our family. She knows where blessings come from. She knows that it’s not our doing. She knows that Jesus has done it all for us.
Jesus came to earth as God incarnate to begin building the Kingdom of God, to offer us abundant life, and to bless us with eternal salvation. It is easy to forget the enormity of what he did in the chaos of Christmas.
Christmas is a wonderful time to enjoy one’s family, but it is first and foremost the birth of our Savior. Celebrate Jesus while you are building. Celebrate God incarnate in days of abundance. Celebrate the blessings that he has given us. Celebrate what he has done for us in rough patches and in joyful stretches.
I’m glad I found that card from way back when, because it reminds me that Christmas doesn’t have to be a memorable celebration to be meaningful. Maybe someday Dan and I will return to celebrating Christmas by ourselves. No matter; it will still be one of the best Christmases of our lives.
Judy Allen is an Area Director with Community Bible Study, and she also writes and speaks with the goal of making the transformative truth of Jesus Christ more impactful in our daily lives. She blogs at connectingdotstogod.com and lives in the Chicago area with her husband and best friend, Dan.