I love tradition.

I adore meaningful ceremonies and deliberate, annual remembrances.

The Christmas season is especially ripe for tradition, which may be the reason I loved the season even before becoming a follower of Christ.

For example, growing up in the Reed home:

  • We pulled out Harry Belafonte’s Christmas album and decorated the tree immediately after the Thanksgiving dishes were washed.
  • Christmas Eve dinner was oyster stew for the family (YUCK!) and Campbell’s Chunky Sirloin Burger for the picky redhead. (That would be me.)
  • We received the Word from Linus every year….”And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
  • One present could be opened on Christmas Eve. Only one.
  • My mom made almond crescent cookies dusted with powdered sugar.
  • The annual fudge had to be made by me (I had the “fudge touch”)—even when I was so young I needed a stool to stand at the stove stirring it.
  • And every year, at least one of the stocking stuffers was an orange. (Whose idea was THAT?!)

Marriage was an eye-opener for this north-meets-south couple when our Christmas traditions butted heads.

I mean, really, how could anyone find the Charlie Daniels Band superior to Harry Belafonte? Every time Mike played “Christmastime Down South,” I envisioned goats in an overgrown yard and a washing machine on the front porch.

Needless to say, Christmas really tested our marital negotiation skills. However, with much love, time, laughter, and compromise, we managed to come up with our own Christmas traditions.

We kept some favorite childhood traditions:

  • A birthday cake for Jesus.
  • One present on Christmas Eve—except now it was always new pajamas (because Christmas morning pictures).
  • Christmas Eve candlelight service and a bedtime reading from Luke Chapter 2.
  • We retired the less-favored ones. (Oyster stew and oranges, I’m looking at you).

And some just evolved:

  • The Odell cousins slept over on Thanksgiving night. Together the next day, they decorated our house for Christmas. (Free labor—but you get what you pay for!)
  • At least one gift for each person was socks and underwear. (Whose idea was THAT?)
  • Elf and eggnog: because it’s not really the Christmas season until you have watched Elf.
  • All three kids sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve, arguing and/or giggling at unholy morning hours as they waited for us to get up.
  • My crazy husband getting up just before dawn, climbing up on the roof and trying (rather unsuccessfully) to create the effect of the “prancing and pawing of each tiny hoof.”
  • An annual Christmas letter, which was faithfully sent to friends and family in February.

This holiday, however, I realized that we’re in a new season.

There are ten stockings hanging on my mantle, but only three belong to someone who actually lives in the house. Most of our family’s traditions have “aged out.” All but one of our six “Christmas kids” are grown, graduated, and working real jobs— with no more wonderfully long academic holiday breaks. They will still come home, but only for a few days—and probably not every single year. (Sob). Not only that, two of the kids are now married and have two sets of parents and siblings wanting to spend holiday time with them. (I now understand why my friend Pilar coaches her son to marry an orphan.)

The rather brutal truth is that I can never again take for granted that we will all be together for Christmas. At one point, after putting my middle child on a plane back to her job in the Catskills (1,173 miles away—but who’s counting?), I sat in a very empty house drinking my coffee with no one but the dogs for company and on the verge of some heavy duty ugly-crying as the realization hit me that the “Full House” years are officially over.

But here’s the thing God is revealing in a fresh way to me today: Every ending is also a beginning, and God is intimately involved in every ending and every new beginning; we just need to look for Him. Moreover, new beginnings are not just for the college grads and newlyweds, but for their empty-nest parents, too.

As our kids move into their adult lives and develop their own set of Christmas traditions, Mike and I are more intentionally choosing what tradition will look like for us in this new season. We’re just starting the process, but we do know this:

During a season when people are more open to wonder and spiritual things, we will choose traditions that focus less on material things and more on people, relationships, and joyfully pointing those around us to the Greatest Gift of all.

May we all marvel at the hope of the Babe in the manger and the glory of the Cross.