I was invited by Patience Brewster to share our Christmas traditions with her audience. Patience is a designer of Christmas ornaments and holiday decorations.
Growing up in New Jersey, our family had some terrific traditions around Christmas. Once my sister and I were old enough, Mom and Dad would take us out to Midnight Mass, which became my favorite Mass of the year. (It was until I experienced an Easter Vigil, anyway!)
I remember watching as our pastor processed toward the altar, holding the Baby Jesus high above his head as we all sang “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” then tenderly placing Him into the manger at the foot of the altar before beginning Mass. I would tear up, even as a young girl, at the sight. At the end of Mass, my father would drive all around the neighborhoods surrounding our own so we could see the Christmas lights. Finally, we’d go to bed, exhausted and happy, before waking up for presents in the morning.
My own family has begun some new traditions, of course, blending what Nathan and I remember as children with things we’ve learned about over the years that enhance our own Christian faith. The biggest of these is our Jesse Tree tradition, which helped our daughters learn about the anticipation for the Christ Child and taught us, as adults, that that anticipation reaches to our time today, as we await the Glorious Coming of our Lord. Just as we make room in the nativity scene for Baby Jesus, we also make room in our hearts for Him, learning to love God better each day.
Our home is bare of most decorations throughout Advent, except for the wreath on the door, the wreath by the Advent candles, and the Christmas tree, which will gradually fill with our Jesse Tree ornaments. At first, the tree is so bare — one or two ornaments are added each day — but when we reach Gaudete Sunday and light the pink candle on our wreath, we break out the Christmas music and decorate our entire home with lights, candles, trees, ornaments, and little Santas. Suddenly, there are fewer spaces for the Jesse Tree ornaments we continue to put up each night!
Now that the girls are older, we go to Midnight Mass (which has also been known to take place at 10 PM, depending on the age and health of our parish priest). We arrive early so the girls can sing in the choir, and they begin with Christmas hymns half an hour before Mass. Finally, it’s time to begin, and, just as we did when I was a child, we all stand and sing (and cry through) “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” After Mass, we take a little detour and see whatever lights might still be on, then head home for Santa to stuff the stockings.
Since we read Scripture each evening for the Jesse Tree beginning on December 1, we also do this on Christmas morning. Once Nathan and I are up and have coffee in hand (a must after Midnight Mass!), the girls come out and take the final ornament out. One of them reads the final Scripture — the story of Jesus’ birth — and the other places the final ornament on the tree. That’s when we start with Christmas stockings, then move to taking turns as we open presents.
Breakfast comes next, and we settle in for a lazy, happy day of relaxing, reading, and just being together. We call our family, spread across the country, and watch the last few Christmas movies that we may not have caught yet. We try to make it over to the Madonna House that’s nearby and have lunch and spend some with our friends there, who support us with their love and prayers year-round.
Christmas dinner this year is going to be ham, though I’ve also been known to make what is basically Thanksgiving dinner for Christmas, as well. (Because we all love Thanksgiving dinner!) Even if it’s just the four of us, the China comes out and the girls get to drink their beverages in wine glasses. We relax and talk about our favorite parts of the day and just enjoy being together.
It’s funny how our Christmases have become such quiet affairs in recent years — how we’ve settled into this routine with just the four of us. It’s really become a day of rest for us all, safe from the demands of our every-day lives and a break from the work we do the rest of the year. It’s not hard to see why some people wish for Christmas to happen more than once a year.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for Christmas to take a day of rest and relaxation with your family! Each week, we’re given the gift of the Sabbath — a day when we should be relaxing and simply enjoying each other’s company without worrying about doing any unnecessary work. Why not make a New Year’s Resolution to take your Sundays and make them like little Christmases? Take that day of rest each week seriously, and spend it with your family and friends. Stop and enjoy the blessings in your life!