Christmas and the Power of Family Traditions

As Christmas approaches, what traditions are you looking forward to the most? Are they ones that have been passed down over many generations, or new ones that were perhaps started by accident? Whatever the case, traditions stir the familiar and evoke nostalgia. They are made manifest in secret family recipes, gift exchanges, advent calendars, the abundance of family and friends gathered for a meal, tree decorating, caroling, the family reading of Luke 2—these are just a few of the traditional things we do that bind us together. They are the unique and intricate stories that make each of our families special.

As you go into this season with lists of things to buy for teachers, coworkers, and family members, wishing there were 36 hours in a day to get it all done, I am reminded of the quote by Charles Hummel: “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”  This quote causes me to step back, adjust my attitude, and tweak the to-do list. Let me tell you about the year Christmas stood still in our home. Gripped with heartbreak and mourning, traditions were birthed out of that Christmas that have lasted for years. The intangible gifts we received that Christmas are ones that are still cherished in our hearts.

We had made all the preparations; the house was decorated and gifts were under the tree. We were busy getting everything done, and then on the morning of Christmas Eve, we got “that” phone call—the one that brings unexpected tragedy that is never invited, but always shows up unannounced. Our family was rocked by the sudden, tragic loss of our mom and sweet grandma. When we arrived back home, there were friends waiting at our door to cry with us and our families drove across the country to sit on our bed and pray with us. The fridge was full of food that kept showing up at our door day after day, and our tables were covered with the many cards that breathed words of hope and life into our tragedy.

On Christmas day, we sat around the Christmas tree with eyes that burned with tears and hearts heavy with the still-fresh news. We needed to carry out the tradition of Christmas, but how? We just sat on the floor with children all around. And then it just happened: We took our 25-day old infant and nestled him on top of the Christmas gifts, gathered all the nieces and nephews who were still in their pajamas, and took a picture of them all huddled together. We found pieces of joy in the midst of our suffering. We were reminded of the gift of life on that bleak Christmas day. Eight years later, we still sit around on Christmas morning in our pajamas, gather the children, and take a picture of them all together.  Something that was once somber is now a sweet tradition that our family looks forward to.

As you try to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, don’t miss these moments! Celebrate together and find the joy in your midst even if it comes from unexpected places. After all, the greatest gift ever given was found in a manger!

Here are some ideas for new Christmas traditions to start with your family this year:

  • Invite a new friend over for coffee or a meal.
  • Give the gift of your time to someone who may feel lonely.
  • Bring cookies to the fire station or police department around Christmas.
  • Visit someone in a convalescent home that has no family.
  • Help those who have lost a loved one this year celebrate in an extra special way.
  • Make a special family recipe to share with your coworkers.
  • Send a hand-written letter to someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Do an undercover Christmas where you give each family member 20 dollars to spontaneously bless someone. Then come back together and share about your experiences.
  • Have a cookie and cocoa party for your neighbors in your front yard.
  • Keep a few five dollar gift cards, hand-written Bible verses, and a few invitations to church to pass out to people you meet in unexpected places.
  • Make love bags for the homeless to give out together.
  • Celebrate Christmas with a “happy birthday, Jesus” cake.
  • Take a family walk around the neighborhood and pray for the houses as you pass by.
  • Help a neighbor put up their Christmas lights.
  • Share the gospel with the story of the candy cane and pass them out.
  • Have your small group cook a meal together and pass out Tupperware containers full of food to the homeless together.
  • Bring Christmas gifts to a single mom and her children.
  • Have a group of coworkers adopt a missionary family and send them gifts. Have a present-wrapping party together and pray for them.
  • Regift some books that have impacted your life with a handwritten note to a friend in the cover.

This Christmas, let hope glisten wherever you go, and leave traces of joy as you focus on what’s really important. Ponder the traditions of the past, let go of the to-do list, and embrace those around you. Make room for some new traditions. Celebrate God’s blessings and appreciate your friends and family. Let traditions remind you to turn your eyes to the best gift we could ever receive—the birth of our Savior.

About the Author

Priya Ramsaran