A tradition born out of necessity, the Hardinge Family Christmas Eve dinner is one that I continue to look forward to even to this day.
Growing up, between early-evening Christmas Pageants and singing in the late-night candle-lit service choir, while making sure to leave time for gawky light display viewing around Hagerstown, the family dinner had almost became an afterthought. Needing a quick and easy solution, one year my mom whipped up a few cans of Campbell’s Vegetable Beef soup. In an effort to keep things classy (this was Christmas Eve, after-all), mom broke out the finest porcelain dishes and silver flatware from the china cabinet for us to use. While juxtaposition of eating dorm food from our family’s most expensive tableware lit only by candles was somewhat humorous at the time, the next year (to our surprise) my mom did the same thing.
As the years went by, us kids got older, and Christmas Eve became more of a low-key affair. Gone were the days of performing in pageants and singing it choirs, but by then the meal had become a fixture in our Christmas routine, right alongside the fruitcakes and the white-elephant gift exchange. Although new faces have been added, and wine is now served instead of milk, beef soup and fine china remains a family tradition.
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Traditions can be funny like that. While some have been prearranged and well thought out, others just happen to fall into place due to timing and circumstance.
The other day, Missy posed this question to her Facebook friends:
“I want to start a tradition for our girls at Christmas time…any great ideas?”
From conventional to nouveau, the responses came in fast and furious:
- “Mommy should sing to them, and Daddy should play guitar for them…. and every year, you should videotape their reaction!”
- “I do a new ornament for each of my kids. They represent something they’ve accomplished or done that year…”
- “When they go to bed on Christmas Eve, they find new Christmas pj’s on their beds (or cribs!)….makes for great pics the next morning, too!”
- “My girls each get a new ornament each year also but they have miniature prelit trees in their rooms that they hang them on. They love having their own trees and it takes away the obsession with “my” ornaments that are breakable on the big tree.”
- “Jammies!! We do matching even with boys and a girl. So cute! And, a fun present early. Birthday cake and singing to Jesus on Christmas morning. Also, we did this once with my family, but will definitely be doing it as our kids get older: act out the Christmas story (simple script) – draw for parts (makes it funny when Grandpa or Daddy gets to be Baby Jesus or Mary!) – each person gets 10 min. to find their “costume” from items around the house – act out and video tape. Watch old videos on Christmas Day. So fun!”
We were blown away, as she ended up with almost twenty amazing responses! Any of which we could honestly see ourselves adopting as our own. With so many new things to think about this year as we celebrate our first Christmas together with a family of our own, Missy and I have a new perspective heading into this holiday season. While our girls won’t know the difference between unwrapping an empty box of size three diapers or a diamond-encrusted gold watch (yet), they will soon come to know Christmas with the wide-eyed anticipation, wonder, and imagination that children the world-over have.
As Christians, what is our responsibility to our girls in celebrating one of the most important events of the year? How to we stop “reason for the season” from being overshadowed by the rampant consumerism that now invades the airwaves even before Halloween begins? With all the toy commercials for cheap plastic crap and ridiculous car commercials that make luxury brands seem ordinary, even as adults we lose sight of the patience and hope Advent brings and the joyous celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. Even after Christmas, all we hear is “take back that gift you just got and buy something you really want.”
Perhaps the more interesting question: what do we do about Santa? At last check, there was no rosy-cheeked bearded man in a plushy crimson suit manger-side with a host of little elves on the first Christmas. So do we still go all out perpetuating the myth of sleighs and flying reindeer, or do we throw the Man in Red under the bus and pretend like there is no such thing? If we go with option two, then what precedent does that set for other mythical holiday creatures like tooth fairies, Easter Bunnies, and leprechauns?
I like to think that as their parents, our young girls will believe what we tell them to believe. So if we do go with option one, then what happens when they find out that Santa Claus is in fact just a myth? Will they then be less willing to believe in God the Father with faith unseen? Will they think that since mom and dad lied about Santa, they could be lying about God as well? On the other hand, Missy and I have no beef with Kris Kringle. We both had him in our lives as children, yet we still turned out fine. In fact, I can’t name you one person I know who gave up on God the minute they found out Father Christmas didn’t actually come down their chimney, eat their cookies, and leave them gifts each December 25th.
These are all big questions. Thankfully, Missy and I still have some time to think about what’s best for our new family. We can find ways curb the commercialism of the season by starting traditions that keep Christ at the foundation of the holiday and not just in the footnotes. And regarding Papa Noel, we’re thinking that we’d like to remember the story and traditions of St. Nicholas (the original Santa) and St. Nicholas’ Day, which celebrates the good deeds of the bishop of Myra, while still incorporating a healthy mix of the customs and traditions of the modern version.
And as for this year, well…we plan on just enjoying this first Christmas together with kith and kin, starting our own Christmas traditions, and celebrating the birth of Christ. The halls are decked, the cookies are made, and Missy and I have some special things in mind that will hopefully become fixtures in the years to come.
I’m interested to know what your thoughts are. What are some of your Christmas traditions?