Simply Christmas

Reflecting back over our Christmas holiday, I realized that each year, as Christmas approaches, I think to myself, “Is there anything I can do to make this holiday more Christ-centered in our family?” In fact, I ask myself this question upon the approach of any holiday or family celebration.

My increased attention to this particular question is related to a specific disconnect from my childhood, which only came to my attention years after I had come to the Lord.

~ the disconnect ~

I was raised in a household that was anti-religion. Not exactly anti-God, but entirely anti-church.

My dad had been raised in a small, charismatic church where his mother was the minister. They spoke in tongues at every service (and, in fact, manifesting tongues was a requirement for membership when my dad was growing up). For many years, women only wore skirts and never cut their hair. For many years, they believed the world was flat. My dad, though he loved his mom and the members of the church, did not believe that many of their practices were true reflections of God, and so as an adult, he decided he would raise me without any of the false pretenses that humans bring to religion.

My mom had been raised in a Catholic church, where she found plenty of religion, but none of the warmth or love or depth of caring that she longed for, growing up. As a result, she was uncertain about who God really was. She decided that she was agnostic. She was certain that there was “something” out there that was spiritual, but equally certain that people had no real way of knowing exactly what that “something” was. She disliked and distrusted churches, and so as an adult, she decided that she would raise me without any of the damaging illusions that humans bring to religion.

And so, I grew up in a household that sought to be morally good, and also rejected any form of religion. I didn’t really notice, of course. That’s just all I knew. I was on friendly terms with people who went to church. Churches didn’t make me uncomfortable, and there were even times that I wanted to join one. In general, however, I viewed them more as social clubs, and adopted the belief that, while there was some great-spiritual-something at work in the universe, we could never truly define or understand it, and I should simply go about my best efforts to live a good life and be a good person.

This course, unfortunately, did not serve me very well. My ideas about what was acceptable became quite mixed up in what culture said was acceptable, and my desire for acceptance as a teenager and young adult led to increasing rebelliousness and partying. I was in my late twenties when I cried out, “Isn’t there something more than this kind of life? Isn’t there some way that I could be the good person I actually want to be?” I seemed to lack any kind of self-control in many social situations, and wondered if I was doomed to self-destruct.

And in that moment, when I wondered if all was entirely hopeless, I met the Lord. I knew He was real. I went to church. I read the Bible. I was suddenly delivered from some of my most self-destructive behaviors, anxiety and depression and drunkenness. I entered into new life!

Of course, I shared this with my parents! My dad was happy for me. My mom was cautious, reminding me that churches were man-made institutions, flawed and often destructive in their practices, and that the Bible was written by men with imperfect understandings. I was undeterred.

Soon after, I was married to a man specially chosen for me by God, and we grew together in our faith from the beginning. As the years passed, my parents, actually, both grew in their faith as well. My dad, though trials of job loss and cancer, entered into an especially-beautiful personal relationship with Jesus, being restored to a right relationship that he had always held privately in his heart, as a small seed, and which gloriously blossomed forth and overflowed in these later years! I had the pleasure of many spiritual conversations with him, though many miles separated us, and even enjoyed the honor of praying with him, for the first time. Like, he actually said to me, “I’ve never prayed with anyone before. How do we do this?” And we prayed and laughed and cried. It was awesome.

And it was at about this time that this very interesting disconnect struck me.

During one of our conversations, my dad said to me, “Of course, when we raised you, we always made sure you knew that the real reason for Christmas was Jesus.”

And I was silent. Because I don’t remember that from my childhood. At all. Not one tiny bit. I remember that my grandmother’s church, on my dad’s side, talked about Jesus at Christmas, naturally. And my grandmother on my mom’s side never missed mass. But I don’t remember having a discussion about Jesus and Christmas in our house, at all. I remember Santa Claus and presents and Christmas trees and Christmas decorations and Christmas carols and Christmas movies and Christmas lights…But I do not remember Jesus.

And yet, my dad was certain that he had raised me that way. I realized that it was because, inside his own heart, he did always know that Jesus was the reason for the season. And so he naturally assumed that I did, too. He assumed that he had passed that along to me. But he had not actually, intentionally, taught me this lesson, because it was wrapped up in the human-church aspect of religion that he had rejected. And I don’t fault him for that! He wasn’t fully walking with the Lord when he was raising me, and so he couldn’t be held responsible for training me up in the ways of the Lord, which only the Holy Spirit could have led him in…

But I have already come to the Lord. And I do know that I am responsible for training my children up in the ways of the Lord. And I do have the promised counsel of the Holy Spirit available to lead me in these efforts. And so I am without excuse!

And that is why I now reflect…each year…each holiday…almost each-and-every day…

“Lord, am I truly training them up in the way they should go? Am I truly teaching them about You? Am I teaching and demonstrating in a way that they will truly understand and truly remember?”

Because woe to me, if the years pass by, and my children look back at me blankly and say, “Who?”

~ the celebration ~

And that is why I so-especially found myself thinking about glorifying God in our Christmas celebration. The truth is, we don’t have to celebrate Christmas.

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it…

(Romans 14:6, KJV)

But we are happy to spend a day reflecting upon the wondrous birth of our Savior into this world! It is a day that we pause from our regular work, as we do on the Sabbath; that we celebrate with decorations and gifts and simple festivities; that we re-read those favorite accounts of the birth and early years of our Lord; and that we share a special meal together, giving God thanks and praise!

~ decorating ~

Over the years, we have abandoned the Christmas tree tradition. We just couldn’t find anything about a tree that was particularly Christ-centered, and the idea of cutting down a tree for the purpose of decoration and disposing of it afterwards is especially contrary to our homesteading way of life, today. As is the idea of purchasing an artificial tree.

But we do decorate! This year, we had a specific discussion about decorations, as I told the kids, “You know, we don’t have to decorate. But if we do decorate, I want to feel like every decoration that we put up specifically reminds me of the Lord in some way, don’t you think?” And so, we went through our little collection of Christmas ornaments this year, with the Lord in mind.

Christmas lights? Yes!

The people which sat in darkness saw great light…

(Matthew 4:16, KJV)
penguin, hand-painted gourd, dragonfly, autumn tree, dove…all reminders, both of God’s creation, and of our travels as a family!

And what about decorations?

Anything that came from nature, from snowflakes to flowers to seashells, reminded us of the Lord and His creation.

If an ornament didn’t remind us of the Lord, we wrapped it up and put it back into storage…Some are heirlooms handed down through the family, and we don’t want to be disrespectful by disposing of them, even while we seek to glorify the Lord more entirely by making thoughtful and honoring choices in what we display.

snowflakes and seashells and even little chili-peppers…
…and ballet slippers? Well, there is a simple explanation…The boys and I all agreed that these ballet slippers reminded us Genevieve, who so greatly enjoys her own pair…and that sweet little girl reminds us all of the Lord!

And so, at the end of this little exercise, we could all agree that each of our decorations made us think of some aspect of the Lord, each time that we looked at them!

~ gifts ~

Gifts? Yes! The truth is, we don’t have to give gifts.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

(Matthew 2:11, KJV)

But we are happy to spend some time celebrating the Lord by reflecting upon the gift that God has given us, and the gifts that we may give to others.

We do mostly hand-made gifts, and it’s really quite a lovely process, especially for the kids, listening to them think through what everyone would like, and then watching them diligently spending time over the course of the days, doing their best to make something special for someone else!

It’s nice to hear the excitement build, as they look forward to watching the others open the gifts that they have made. And it’s nice to watch all of the excitement on Christmas Day, as each one is surprised and delighted by their gifts, complimenting each other on their good work and fun ideas. Here are a few of the things that we unwrapped this year…

from Vivi to everyone…
from Asher to Joe, Spencer, and me, beautiful wildlife drawings
from Joe to the kids, a few special treats from the last craft fair! The boys now have the honor of their own special mugs from our favorite local artist…And for Vivi, who already has a mug, and takes a special delight in picking out scented handsoaps, a special bar hand-made with rose petals!
waxed-canvas origami boxes, each with a heart-ornament inside…
from Asher to Vivi…
from Spencer to Vivi, one of his hand-written-and-illustrated story books
Joe’s gift to me, a coffee-cup cover, beautifully carved with some of my favorite Maine wildflowers…
…an amazing activity book, full of mazes, word scrambles, word searches, and hidden picture puzzles!
from me to everyone, scripture dinner napkins…and…

There is a natural way in which this approach to gifts tends to turn thoughts more to giving than receiving, and also to encourage treasuring these gifts as more precious because of the thoughts and efforts of the giver.

~ festivities ~

Our Christmas Day celebration is really very quiet and simple.

It often begins with hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows in the woodstove, because that’s just fun! There is candlelight, and there are Christmas carols, like Joy to the World and We Three Kings and Hark the Herald Angels Sing and The First Noel. There are, of course, presents to open…and family games to play…We might take a walk outside, or play in the snow, if there is any. We enjoy a special meal, like a nice roast with sides of carrots and greens, happily preserved from this farm season. We read about the Lord’s birth, in Matthew, and in Luke. We celebrate the Lord, and enjoy each other’s company. We are grateful to the Lord for His gifts, for giving us His Son, for giving us each other.

In this way, every Christmas is different, and every Christmas is a little bit the same…In this way, I pray that every Christmas will be remembered as a little bit different in its details, as we all grow and change over time…And that every Christmas will be remembered as being a little bit the same, as the Lord was always at the center of the celebration!

~ conclusion ~

For Joe, this whole holiday-celebration thing is pretty simple. He may spend some time reflecting back over the Christmases of his past, but ultimately, he asks one simple question about Christmas. It’s the same simple question that he asks about everything we do. “Does it glorify God?” As long as, in all good conscience, his answer is yes, we will continue to do it. If there is any doubt, we will stop. Because, at the end of the day, whether we eat or drink, whether we celebrate or don’t celebrate, whether we are at work or at play, there is only one good reason for each and every thing we do in our lives, and that is to glorify God in any-and-every small-or-large way that we can. And that is the reason for every season!

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

(Colossians 3:17, KJV)

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