The Joy of Holiday Traditions

Girl Celebrating Christmas

This past week I was not feeling much in the way of Christmas spirit. The fall had flashed by me in a flurry of frenzied activity, and by the time I looked up, we were mid-way through December. The sun was setting by 4:45pm, decorative lights lined the hedges and the homes in our neighborhood and throughout our town, and I didn’t even realize we were less than two weeks from Christmas.

I want to embrace this Christmas season. After all, isn’t it supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”? I shared with my wife, Laura, that this December felt like every other month to me and that concerned me. We both realized it was time to return to some of our favorite Christmas traditions. The result is that we have had a delightful week preparing our hearts for a celebration of God’s redeeming grace in Christ.

Here are just a few traditions we’ve pulled back off the shelf to enjoy over the holidays as we celebrate the birth of Christ:

Reading the Gospel of Luke Together as a Family

Family dinner hour is very special to us. With 4 kids under the age of 11, corralling everyone for a few unhurried moments of meaningful interaction together is no small task. Even with the difficulties of managing it all, family dinner provides a rhythm, a stability, an anchor for our family. Most importantly, as we share a meal together, I have my entire family seated before me and that provides a wonderful opportunity to relate, to discover the joys and the challenges of everyone’s day, and transfer the gospel to my children. We started reading small portions of the gospel of Luke together as a family in anticipation of celebrating the birth of Christ. It helps me remind myself, and my family, that the reason for this Season is Christ.

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Putting Together a Christmas Count-Down For the Kids

Christmas count-down

Now, this one I have had nothing to do with! This is a tradition that my wife, Laura, has put together for our kids to enjoy. We have a decorative house, complete with windows that are marked with numbers representing each day of the month of December leading up to Christmas. Laura has a note in each day for a small surprise for the kids. Nothing fancy, but something fun for them to enjoy. Examples have included things like: “Put out our family Christmas lights” or “Peppermint Milk-Shakes Tonight” or “Watch a Christmas movie.” Most of these things we would do anyway, but it blesses and surprises them and builds anticipation for something greater to come.

The kids wake up each day, and the first question they ask is, “Can we open our Christmas count-down now?” I love this tradition as a family. The biggest window is number “25” reserved for Christmas morning, the day when we will celebrate the birth of Christ together as a family, with gifts and joy!

Listening to Rich Christmas Music

I’m one of those guys that doesn’t like to turn on Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. I always find it funny when retail stores start playing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” the day after Halloween! With that said, I was a little slow on the up-take this year, and that may have contributed to my lack of Christmas-spirit. We have a few favorite play-lists that we return to each December, and as soon as the music fills the hallways of our home, it brings joy to our family and is a way for us to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Attending Edifying Christmas Services

Nothing helps me more during the holidays than attending wonderfully, gospel-rich church services. At Redeeming Grace Church, we celebrated Advent (the season of expectant waiting and celebration of the coming of Christ) through Scripture readings, song, the preached word, and communion this past Saturday night. It was a feast for my soul and my spirit was soaring by the time the service concluded. I am so grateful to God for his saving grace in Christ!

Participating in Community-Wide Christmas Events

Putting up outdoor Christmas lights, driving around to see the decorations everyone else has put up, going to a Christmas concert, taking part in community festivals, and slowing down to interact with those in the community with a smile and a “Merry Christmas” has been such a blessing to our family over the holidays each year. One of our favorite events is attending the Dickens Festival in downtown Franklin. It was 33 degrees yesterday, and we still bundled up to join the crowd and hear the carolers. We had our first taste of sugarplums, and it will be a lasting memory for years. I thank God for moments like this.

sugarplums

carolers

Cooper Christmas

Enjoying a Christmas movie

There’s nothing quite like getting the family in pajamas and sitting on the couch together under the light of a dimly lit Christmas tree to watch one your favorite Christmas movies. The repetition of viewing the same movie together each year is pure fun. The kids start memorizing quotable lines which we bring with us throughout every day life. We relax together and laugh. Laughter is a gift and it reminds me of the joy and peace we have in Christ.

Devouring Peppermint-Stick Ice-Cream

side_02_mic_ssnl_peppermint

Our good and gracious God richly provides us with everything freely to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). For me, peppermint-stick ice-cream is at the top of my holiday treats to enjoy! It only comes out in November and December, and it is absolutely amazing. There have been numerous times when I have taken a bite and have reminded myself of God’s incredible common grace. I think, “Sinners don’t deserve this, and yet, here it is freely available for all because of God’s incredible grace!” Can you tell I love peppermint-stick ice cream?

Experiencing the Joy of Giving

It’s very easy for me to hold off my Christmas shopping into a few days before Christmas. My wife does the bulk of our Christmas shopping for family and friends, and I have the joy of Christmas shopping primarily for my wife and kids. I generally have an idea of what I want to buy for them, so it’s easy to put off until the last-minute. One year, I did all my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve! However, I’ve come to realize that there is something about the joy of giving that really puts me in the Christmas-spirit. The earlier I go, the better (as long as it’s after Thanksgiving for me). Jesus said “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

No one has ever given more to us than God Himself. In sending his only Son into this sin-wrecked world to save us from our sins, God the Father has provided us the gift of eternal life. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15). Jesus laid down his life for his friends. He came to give his life as a ransom for sinners. He lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death. He took the punishment we deserved for our sins and bore the wrath of God for us, that we might be forgiven.

Jesus came to save. That’s the meaning of Christmas. That’s what this season is all about. That’s what’s behind any authentic Christmas-spirit. And that’s worth celebrating with joy!

These are just a few of the ways we have sought to embrace this wonderful season, celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

I'm a husband, father of four, healthcare IT recruiter, pastor and writer. I live in the greater Nashville, TN area where I serve as an elder with Redeeming Grace Church (www.rgcnashville.com).