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My husband John and I both come from blended families. When we married, holidays involved splitting our time between parents who lived far away. Once our son Tyler arrived, however, we began to value holidays in our own home. On occasion, we would still pack him and eventually his sisters up to share Christmas with our families, but not at the expense of building fond memories and traditions for them at home.

Christmas traditions do not have to be complex. In fact, I would caution against starting traditions that tax finances, energy, and minds already loaded with stress in this season. Many serendipitous moments evolved into full-blown traditions without us even realizing it, but with a little purposeful planning, simple traditions can become core memories to pass down for generations. 

Three Unique Christmas Traditions in Our Home

Making Christmas Tree Memories

My husband began taking Tyler with him to purchase the fresh tree when he was a toddler, and one year he decided to let him pick it out. Four-year old Tyler walked over to a tree still wrapped in netting and pointed, “Dat one!” Without opening it, John paid for the tree and brought it home. It may have been a little scraggly, but it was his tree! Soon the children took turns picking out the tree, often with comical results. We began keeping the small wooden pieces trimmed from the trunks to record the year, the person who picked it, and a distinguishing feature. These little slabs are now part of our annual decor. 

Teaching the Bible Through Our Nativity Display

Many Christian families display a nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus. During one of our homeschool activities, we read in Matthew chapter 2 that the Wise Men did not visit Baby Jesus at the stable, so we began the tradition of setting up our nativity without the Magi. Instead, they could be found on the counter, on top of cabinets, or along the credenza, slowly making their way to Bethlehem. Each morning during the Christmas month, the children would wake and look to see where the Magi had traveled. Sometimes, sleepy parents went to bed without moving them first, and they would be stuck in the same place, but they would eventually arrive at the Nativity on January 6, or the day of Epiphany.

Adopting an International Student

As our children grew, we heard about international students who had nowhere to go when the university campuses closed at Christmas. Through a well-known organization, we began to host students over the holidays. Many came to play, but others came specifically to ask questions about Jesus and the Bible. We gifted them with a star ornament and a book titled, A Stranger on the Road to Emmaus in their own language. One student from South Korea devoured the book, clutching it to her chest and exclaiming, “Where did you get this book? I have waited for this book my whole life!” You can bet we quickly found a Korean Bible for her! 

Our children not only learned radical hospitality, but also how to live in a place of curiosity and interest in other cultures. This tradition took us outside of ourselves in a wonderful way, welcoming people from around the world as we shared our home and Jesus with them. 

These are some of our best traditions, but if you are just starting to create your own, how might you begin your memories? Here are some tips for different seasons of life:

Traditions for Families with Young Children

Babies love babies! Is there anything more amazing than the omnipotent Jesus leaving His glory behind to become a helpless infant? Start with a small, child-friendly nativity and talk about each piece as they place it into the manger scene. Will you add the Magi, or will they arrive later? 

With toddlers and young children, are you willing to forgo perfection for this season? At that stage of young children, after multiple broken ornaments, we decorated only the top fourth of the tree. As they grew, they were the ones to decorate the tree further down. For our grandchildren, we have made sure that reachable tree ornaments are unbreakable and that they are allowed to touch them.

Traditions for Pre-Teens and Young Adults

Along with the tradition of the tree and the nativity, our pre-teen to young adult children were at a unique age for beginning to think beyond themselves. If you are unable to host international students, how else might you broaden their view of the holiday around the world or in your town? How can you help them transition from receiving to giving? Some families visit nursing homes. Some serve at food banks or soup kitchens together. Many assemble shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. If they like to bake, then bake! Help them make treats for others and let them distribute them.

Traditions for Empty Nesters or the Sandwich Generation

The key in this season is flexibility. Your children are probably pretty stressed as they try to honor their parents and care for their children, and they may be feeling a pinch financially. Could you choose a different day to gather this year? Could you consider drawing names for a gift exchange, or finding an activity that doesn’t place a financial burden on them? One year, we treated our kids and their families to a play at the local theater. Another year we did a scavenger hunt in the city. We have also found that as we keep the tradition of Christmas stockings, they are thrilled to find gift cards in them! When gifting to your grandchildren, be respectful of the lifestyle and goals their parents are trying to achieve. Would they want a building set with a million pieces to pick up, or would they rather have an annual pass to a zoo or children’s museum? 

If you are unfamiliar with the Sandwich Generation, it typically means that an elderly parent has moved in with you before all of your children have left home. We found ourselves in this position beginning in 2016. It doesn’t take much to welcome an elderly parent into your celebration. Be respectful of their need for frequent naps, and try to have dinner at an earlier hour. A small gift is appreciated, but being included is the sweetest of all. Remember to take those generational photos, and be sure to print one for their room!

Traditions change and evolve, but they should never become a burden or come at the expense of peace. Take time to evaluate which season you are in. Make space for the holiness of the season together through church traditions like Advent. Mainly, remember that your peaceful and encouraging presence in the midst of traditions is the greatest gift. 

Looking for a place to celebrate Advent? We’d love to meet you! Join us for a 4-week Advent series at Grace, called Comfort and Joy: Good Tidings for Hard Times.

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