My brother Rob and I have always been close. We’re only fourteen months apart and up until this year when he started going to *gasp* public school, we’ve always done everything together. So when we were younger and Rob had bunk beds, we figured we’d help each other get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Only, that’s not what happened. Instead of helping each other get to sleep, we ended up keeping each other up into the wee hours of the morning. But after laughing so hard that night, it became an instant tradition.
As it would hardly be fair to write about one side of the family and not the other, I realized when I wrote “All I Really Want” that I was going to have to write a second journal entry on the topic.
Visiting with my dad’s side of the family is very different from visiting with my mom’s side. For one, Christmas with the Dunn’s involves seeing extended family we don’t get to see on a regular basis outside of our annual Christmas gathering. Though a few of the families live within a twenty mile radius of each other, a lot of that side is much more spread out. The other big difference is the average age. On my dad’s side we have four cousins instead of five. That may not seem like too big of a difference at first glance, but three of the four are grown –two married with either a newborn or a baby on the way and the third engaged to a long-time girlfriend—and the fourth just a little kid. Most of the time, therefore, is spent conversing, catching up and swapping the latest stories. When you are about to do something big that everyone knows about, like go to college, everyone is going to ask you what your plans are, so you’d better have an answer prepared!
Besides everyone coming to our house –a tradition begun after we moved into our new house here in Florida—the only other big tradition is the food. If you hadn’t guessed by that point after hearing the deep Southern accents, you’d know as soon as you caught sight of the wide array of delicious Southern cooking. Turkey, cornbread, divinity, seven layer chocolate and caramel cake, butter beans, sweet tea…and there are very few things better than visiting with family, your stomach full of good food, sleepily sitting on the couch as you sip a cup of hot apple cider.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Possibly the most meaningful tradition any family could practice every year at Christmas is the reading of the Christmas story. I hear it a few times during the Christmas season –my family reads it at least once as a family every year, our pastor reads it at the Christmas Eve service we attend every year, and I’ll read it to myself on the days leading up to Christmas to keep my mind focused on the true meaning of the season. This year, however, when someone I love dearly has told me they don’t believe in God or His Son, reading the Christmas Story has become even more meaningful. I physically ache for my friend who has lost their way, doubting the One who loves them more than any other person on this earth. I pray daily for my friend, desperately desiring for them to know the love that God showed that night over 2,000 years ago when He sent His Son down to earth as a child, born not as a king, but as a carpenter’s son, willing to take on our sings, to experience the agony of seperation with His Father, The Most High God, so that we might spend eternity with Him. He loved us more than we could possibly comprehend. I pray my friend can understand this. I pray they can understand why the Christmas story is more than just a simple story, more than just a silly tradition.
Lights in the Dark
Driving around and looking at lights is one of the things I’m always anxiously awaiting come the first of December as everyone starts to put out their lights. My family always takes a special drive Christmas Eve after the Christmas Eve service to see them. Mom always fixes each of us a cup of hot chocolate to take with us to drink while we’re “ooo”-ing and “ahh”-ing over the spectacular light displays. Dad plugs his iPhone into the car and we listen to one of his favorite Christmas albums while we drive (this year it will probably be Harry Connick Jr.’s “When My Heart Finds Christmas”. That’s the one he’s been playing this year every time we all get into the car together.) No one does much talking, but then we don’t have to. Having that quiet moment together as a family Christmas Eve before the chaos of Christmas morning is enough.
This tradition is fairly new when compared to most of the others. The first Christmas Eve service I remember attending, and the first as we made it an annual tradition, was at our church in Stafford, Virginia. I was a part of the youth choir group there, and every year we would sing at the Christmas Eve service. It was always a beautiful service and every year, no matter how stressed or anxious I was before I went, I always left with a feeling of peace.
Though we’ve moved all the way down to Florida now, our church here in Niceville has a Christmas Eve service as well, and I am very thankful to have the ability to continue this tradition. At the end of the service as we hold up our little candle stubs to the darkness around us, singing of the birth of our Savior, rejoicing over the love our God showed to us that night so many years ago.
It is extremely rare for any kid to tell you their favorite thing about Christmas is something other than presents. There is something almost magical about the anticipation and expectation that centers around the boxes under the tree.
My mom has always been terrible about capitalizing on our impatience. Since we were old enough to start trying to guess what the wrapped boxes held, Mom has gone to great lengths to keep us guessing. She’s done everything from wrapping with multiple layers of paper and bubble wrap (even one time using duct tape!) to putting marbles or shirts in the box. Her tactics are starting to rub off on the rest of us as well –last year my brother wrapped a huge box when all that was inside was a piece of paper telling me what his present to me would be.
My dad adds to the anticipation too, though in a very different way. Every year when he catches us shaking presents he tells us that if you know what you’re getting, it’s going to get taken back to the store. This year it’s turned into a sing-song, “If you touchy, it go back-y”. So we have to wait for him to go to work to shake our presents.
As I have gotten old enough to start picking out and buying presents for others myself however, an interesting change in attitude toward the presents has occurred in me. While the presents with my name on them still manage to keep me excited and anxious, my favorite part of opening presents is when my brothers and sister open up their presents from me on Christmas Eve. Their excitement means more to me than any gift I have ever received.
My mom’s side –the McGuffee side—of the family always meets up at a beach house for a few days during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Getting to spend time with them is really special –with two adult cousins and four households, it is very rare for our whole family to get together like that outside of our time together at Christmas.
It’s definitely not your typical Christmas gathering. The McGuffee side of the family is composed of, well, a bunch of crazy loons.
The picture on the right of my grandfather wearing a pair of underwear over his pants is a pretty classic example of this –he was just trying to show my cousin, standing next to him, how silly he looked wearing clothes the wrong way.
A new tradition we added last year was playing a game we call “Campfire Pants”. It’s a take on “Telephone” where you write down a common phrase on an index card and the next person has to draw a picture depicting that phrase, leaving the next person to try to guess the phrase and write it down and so on. The name we gave it, “Campfire Pants”, comes from a set of cards that went around that started as the phrase “smarty pants”. Somehow the pictures ended up depicting a pair of pants over a fire so the next index card read “campfire pants!”. We learned very quickly not to eat or drink anything while we were playing ‘cause when it was time to read them out loud, we were all doubled over laughing.
Being with family –creating those memories together that will last a lifetime–is one of the most meaningful traditions my family has.
There is so much symbolism attached to lights that I feel highly unqualified to give my opinion on them. I may not be a professional, and I may not know all there is to know about lights –or about being a light—but I do know there is a reason something as seemingly silly as Christmas lights is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
The story of the first Christmas tree (and the first Christmas lights) is this: After Martin Luther married and had a family, one Christmas Eve he was walking home through the forest and was deeply impressed by the myriad of stars in the winter sky, and also by the beauty of the stately evergreens. When Luther reached home, he tried to explain the glory of the scene to his wife and children, but words failed him. So he went out, cut down a small fir, and placed lighted candles on it to represent the starry night over the stable the night Christ was born.
Though they are no match for the stars they imitate, the simple white Christmas lights that I love the most that twinkle from our roof and Christmas tree fill me with a quiet joy, a feeling of wonder. I have never been much of a fan of colored lights, for the reason that, to me, they crowd out the more traditional white lights whose elegance and beauty make me think of the glory of our great God.
“Christmas is knowing God loves you and comes to be with you. Christmas is God in your heart.”
When I bought the little green and red book so many years ago, I had no idea what an impact it would make on my thoughts in the days leading up to Christmas. It was simple, unassuming as it sat among the more tempting toys that were littered on the table of trinkets I could buy using the “money” I had earned from memorizing Bible verses at my church AWANA program. Despite humble beginnings, “Christmas Is”, has become an incredibly important tradition to me. The first year I read it, it was a nice collection of Christmas stories, but each year I used it more and more to help me remember, when facing the hustle and bustle of the season, what Christmas is truly about. Through poignant tales of the beginning of many Christmas traditions, meaningful prayers for the Christmas season, and profound reminders of all God has done for us, I always find my thoughts turning toward the Lord.
I am a coffee drinker. Almost the first thing I do when I get up in the morning is pull out a coffee mug and get my cup of coffee started. So on the first morning after Thanksgiving, one of the things I look forward to most is reaching for one of our Christmas mugs. Every year I circulate between my favorites, standing in the kitchen and deliberating for a bit when I have to choose between the ones I don’t like as much. This happens often, as another of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season that goes along with the Christmas mugs is drinking hot chocolate in the evening. I love to sit cross-legged in front of the twinkling Christmas tree, nursing a Christmas mug full of warm hot chocolate in the evenings. I’ll pull on my comfy p.j.s, pop a pair of headphones playing my Christmas playlist in my ears, and let out a deep breath, thankful for the brief moment to truly enjoy the Christmas season.