Christmas is fast approaching! The more organised have crossed off lists, the semi-organised have started writing lists and everyone else is definitely considering thinking about lists …soon …maybe.
For many, Christmas plans are predictable. Traditions have been well established and you know where you’ll be for each part of the day (or 3 days), who will be part of each gathering and what the general format of each occasion will be.
For others, Christmas represents looming fear. Plans are unconfirmed. Perhaps circumstances have changed since last year – a divorce, death, you (or others) have moved, work situations have changed, family life has shifted – and so you’re not really sure what it will look like.
If you know someone who is alone NOW is the time to check they have a place to go and people to be with. Now is the time when the pending loneliness might be starting to niggle at their hearts and their peace. Now is the time they might be wondering if they ought to prepare for a quiet day alone.
So NOW is the time to extend the invitation. A simple “what are your plans for Christmas Day?” will reveal those without any. And a follow up to be included in a specific aspect of your plans will, at the very least, have them know that if they spend the day alone it will be by choice and not by force.
Celebration days can be difficult for Singles or those living far from or without extended family. “Everyone” talks of busy, tired, full and fun times that can contrast sharply with some people’s experience and that is part of the feeling of loneliness.
My friend posted this on FaceBook today and I love it.
Who are you spending Christmas with? Who could you check in with? To whom might you extend an invitation to ensure they’re not lonely this Christmas?
Yesterday as I was at the supermarket getting last minute cooking supplies, I saw a packet of Christmas lollies that made me smile. They’re often called “traditional Christmas mix” or something similar and they only seem to come out at Christmas time.
I smiled because I’ve had those lollies at pretty much every Christmas I can remember. There were a few loose ones in the bottom of our stockings (that we always ate before breakfast – which sounds like a great idea but always left me feeling a little weird) there were bowls of them around the house – they were like the official treat of the ‘we can eat lollies at any time today because it’s Christmas’ rule! I associate them with my Grandparents (who died before my 12th Christmas), which is a lovely memory too.
Traditions are important to creating a family history. They form part of the shared story that undergirds family relationships – between parents and children and also amongst siblings. Traditions are an important part of our development as children and are formational in our understanding of who we are and where we come from.
On Facebook these past weeks I’ve seen pictures of some great family traditions. From stringing popcorn and cranberries for an edible decoration to visiting the Myer Christmas windows, from a crazy late night shopping expedition to walking the neighbourhood to see the Christmas lights. A gingerbread house decorating competition, a picnic at the Carols, cricket matches, funny Kris Kringles, friends gathering for a BBQ and writing Christmas cards. All of these traditions are so fun to revisit and bond families and friends in love and memories.
Let us know what you do! What traditions do you honour every Christmas time?
And of course, let attending church together be one of those traditions too.
Like millions of others, my heart has broken watching the news reports and hearing the stories out of the horrific school shooting in Connecticut, USA. Amongst many other things I’ve processed in the wake of this tragic event, I have found myself thinking about what Christmas will look like for those families. My heart and mind can’t really wrap themselves around all that would be impacted by such trauma and such intense grief and loss.
The reality for many families is that Christmas could look a lot different for you this year than it did last year. You may have moved house or town. You might have experienced loss through the death of a family member or friend. You might have aged parents who are now in care, a sick loved one who is hospital bound, relatives that are overseas or interstate, a relationship that has ended. So much could be different about this Christmas – and if that’s the case for you, it’s a good idea to identify that and process it in intentional and inclusive ways.
People will react to change in a whole raft of different ways. It depends on personality, resilience, emotional maturity, levels of support (perceived or real) and all manner of other factors. Children will also react to change in unique ways but are often impeded in their processing by their capacity to identify and articulate emotions, feelings, fears or thoughts. Some suggestions for self-reflection and/or discussion.
- Consider what has changed in your family since last Christmas and acknowledge that together. Even if something changed 11 ½ months ago, it may still alter the landscape of your Christmas gathering.
- Discuss the part that person or situation played in the way you celebrated Christmas last year. Perhaps you had cousins spend the day with you that are now living interstate and won’t be here. Or maybe you lived in a different house that lent itself to certain decorations or activities. Maybe someone who has passed away had a special job at Christmas – they manned the BBQ or handed out the presents, they brought the fruit salad or they led the family Carol singing session.
- Make a plan for how you will handle that particular difference. Decide in advance who will take on the role or how you will change your celebrations to cope without it being done. Communicate the plan clearly with all who are impacted.
- Identify the emotions that are attached to the change. Obvious ones would include sadness and grief – but there could be anger, guilt, loneliness, fear, insecurity, hopelessness etc – possibly even relief or happiness. Giving permission for people to feel what they are feeling is a gift that can often bring great release and healing.
- Be intentional about honouring what HAS been whilst celebrating all that is. New situations, new friends and family to celebrate with, new physical environments all lend themselves to exciting opportunities to add new traditions and memories to your Christmas gathering.
- Remember that while much may have changed in your life, God has not! He is the same God yesterday, today and forever. He sees everything, knows everything, is not surprised by anything and offers us infinite love, grace and compassion as we process our way through a broken world. Immanuel – God is with us!
In Kids Ministry and more incidental interactions with children at this time of year, I’m always interested to see how children of various ages process the conundrum of Jesus “versus” Santa! Every church going child knows that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and yet, often, the presents that miraculously appear under the tree on Christmas morning have come from Santa (we know this because the cookies were eaten and his reindeer left half-eaten carrots on the driveway!). Obviously our community celebrates a Santa-driven Christmas season and yet we sing songs like “Away in a Manger” and have donkeys and camels in the nativity pictures. How can we reconcile the two?
Teaching Grade 2 (at a Christian school) there were always a few children who would loudly proclaim to all that Santa wasn’t real and even a couple that would go so far as to say he was ‘of the Devil’. There were then many conversations to be had with distraught children (or less-than-impressed parents) whose Christmas paradigm had been shattered.
My response was always to gently remind the children that all families have different ways of celebrating special occasions and, at Christmas, some of them have Santa as part of their tradition. Generally this was enough to quiet the militant few and was innocuous enough to allow the ‘believers’ to continue in whatever their family had raised them to consider as ‘right’.
The breadth of Christian response to “the Santa Question” stretches from here to the North Pole and I would never pronounce judgement on anyone for the choices they make within that … just some thoughts to ponder.
- If you decide to include the ‘make believe’ of Santa in your family traditions, be sure to speak clearly to how that matches up with the real story of Christmas. There aren’t two different occasions being celebrated here – just the one; Jesus’ birthday. How do Santa and presents help us celebrate a special day?
- The unfortunate flow-on effect of the Santa-based Christmas model is that the focus becomes all about “ME”!! What do I want for Christmas? What will Santa bring ME? If I am good I’ll get everything I want! The REAL story of Christmas is that God made sure we would have EVERYTHING we would ever NEED!! The humble nature of the nativity tells us that serving and giving are more important than getting and “things”. Children need our help to not lose sight of that.
- Christmas is a time of awe and wonder for children. Who isn’t captivated by the sight of a small child whose tired face is lit up by a candle as they sing carols with their family or by the glow of Christmas lights tinkling on their tree; Christmas stockings that go from flat and limp to bulging with goodies – all while we’re asleep (whoever delivers them there)?! But I can’t think of anything more awe inspiring or worthy of our wide-eyed wonder than the truth that the God of the Universe would make Himself to be a human child. Born to a place and in a manner that even our pets wouldn’t have to endure. The greatest gift we could ever conceive and an act of the greatest love we will ever know.
What about you? How do you manage the “Jesus/Santa” question in your household and family?