Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Many Meanings of Christmas

When one peers around during the Christmas season, one seems to find two views: a materialistic, expensive "event" or a quiet, peaceful celebration of Christ's birth.

Some folks are rushing around, carried away by the tide of Christmas buying. Despite the busy stores, people are generally happy and excited. While many people are buying their many gifts for the kids (albeit maybe begrudgingly), I believe they have a hidden kernel of the childlike enthusiasm for the holiday.

Then others eschew the Christmas rush and focus on the "reason for the season." They don't want their kids to grow up thinking that presents are expected and focus on just a few special gifts to celebrate Jesus's birth.

This year, I was particularly late in "setting up" for Christmas. My class schedule ran later than usual, we had wonderful guests visiting, and I was simply overrun with other activities. My children openly wondered if I was ever going to decorate or bake cookies.

When having a short visit with a friend, she shared part of a sermon her pastor had given about Christmas being about Jesus and not getting swept away in the trappings of the holiday. I'd heard that sentiment in the past and left her continuing to think about it.

Was I fretting over matters that didn't matter? Was I missing the reason for the season?

After thought and prayer, I decided that I was not. I'll explain why, along with our family's view about Christmas. Maybe this will help you untangle the confusing messages that seem to contradictory this time of year.

My husband and I both grew up in families that had extravagant Christmases. In the house of my youth, there were two times a year we received gifts - our birthday and Christmas. Otherwise, it was necessities only. My husband and I truly enjoy showering our kids with gifts on Christmas morning.

When I was growing up, Mom would bake cookies for a month while listening to Christmas music. I would help her when I wasn't in school and I cherished those times with her. Some of the cookies I bake to this day are those I learned working with her. When we decorated the tree, we would have the first Christmas cookies, drink eggnog, listen to Christmas music, and hear the stories of all those ornaments. Who gave us this one and who made that one? On Christmas Eve, we would make and celebrate the Polish Wigilia dinner, with pierogis and breads made and frozen months in advance.

To this day, those are my traditions. I bake with my boys. We sing and dance to Christmas music. We eat cookies, drink eggnog, and I tell my kids the stories of all our ornaments. I make sure they know that someday, they will share these stories with their children. On Christmas Eve, we enjoy the traditional, seven-course Polish dinner.

We also firmly believe that we share gifts on Christmas morning because God sent His Son for us. These are birthday gifts in honor of Christ's birth that we share with each other. We read the Bible, go to church services, relish in the beautiful Christmas songs, and generally appreciate the gift of a Savior.

Back to my friend's reminder. I finally realized that Christmas can be BOTH. I can love God and His gift...and create special traditions to celebrate the season...and give my kids tons of gifts...all without a contradictory message.

And you are free to feel the same - or different. Just know what you believe, and what's important to you, and stick with it.

What Christmas traditions to you carry on with joy?

Merry Christmas!