by Rachel Jankovic
New traditions for a young family
All those fun things you remember about Christmas don’t just happen! Someone has to plan it and do the work and clean up the mess afterwards. Someone has to pick out that Christmas dress and find the shoes and buy the tights—all in time for the big event. You probably already have traditions from your own childhood that are as much a part of your idea of Christmas as your name is part of you.
As each year rolls around, we find ourselves adding and removing things from our “traditions” list. We learn from friends, troubleshoot things we didn’t like as much as we thought we would, and pioneer new ways to express that what we are celebrating is still very Good News. This party, this very best party, began 2000 years ago and hasn’t stopped since.
The main concern, and one that many Christians share, is that we never want to fall into the trap of honoring our traditions rather than using our traditions to honor Christ. Traditions are just wonderful tools that we have been given, but they are certainly not an end in themselves.
Here are a few things that have stuck with us through the years.
Christmastime means twinkle lights and shiny decor, stacks of wool blankets, eggnog in the fridge, and most importantly, Christmas books on the hearth. I have a crate of books I add to each year, of all levels of difficulty and seriousness (or lack thereof). The kids see the books come out and run like they are meeting old friends at the airport—A Peanuts Christmas, Tumtum and Nutmeg: A Christmas Adventure, Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, The Conscience Pudding, Christmas in Noisy Village, The Stable Rat and Other Christmas Poems, The Story of the Other Wise Man, and the list goes on. Some of these titles I remember from my own childhood and it is sweet to see my kids poring over them the way I did.
My children love to make all manner of decorative crafting items. To manage but still embrace their desire to celebrate, I make one garland area in the dining room that they can embellish at their leisure. Having a designated place to hang the 10K snowflakes and the inevitable loop chain and all the other ornamentation of the season makes it fun for them and low-key for me. It’s a wonderful thing to not find random things duct taped to the walls.
We are a family that loves food, so we also love food traditions. But there are too many things we like, and we just can’t make and eat treats all day every day for a month. I had a real breakthrough when I realized that just because it is a tradition for us does not mean we have to do it every year. Gingerbread houses are fun, but in my opinion, once a year is too often for them. Now, at the beginning of December, I make a list of all the things we sometimes make and the kids vote on what they really want. Then I make one treat a week (I know the runner-ups if I feel like splurging). This more mellow approach spares me from spending all day every day in December thinking I ought to be decorating sugar cookies.
We celebrate Advent in anticipation of Christmas (though not as a penitential season). Practically speaking, I have a set of little mittens with the numbers of the days on them. The kids take turns opening the mittens to discover the Advent surprise. Sometimes it might actually be a gift—a message that says “Go look under your pillows!” where they will find a new pair of silly socks, or a card game, or other simple item. Typically though, our Advent surprises simply add a level of joy to something already planned. I write a clue that leads them to a hidden tray of cookies and milk with straws. Or they find out we are getting the Christmas tree today. Or maybe we are going to decorate those sugar cookies, or watch a movie, or eat popcorn. I only put the surprise in the mitten right before they open it, so I am in very little danger of over promising and under delivering.
So we head into this Christmas season armed with all of the feeble efforts we can muster to celebrate the Incarnation. And by God’s grace we trust to see our children blessed in that. We hope to forever anchor in them the correlation between loving God and loving each other. We want this knowledge—that Jesus came—to be tied up in their hearts with all of their sweetest memories.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
RACHEL JANKOVIC is a wife, homemaker, and mother of eight. She graduated from New Saint Andrews College, but mostly reads cookbooks now to avoid story grip (being highly susceptible). Rachel’s books Loving the Little Years and Fit to Burst continue to be parenting favorites. She is also a contributor to the Desiring God blog and is featured in their book Mom Enough.