I received my December issue of Southern Living magazine in the mail and excitedly skimmed through the holiday decorations and the gift section, hurriedly making my way to the "I'll be home for Christmas" cooking section. Throughout the house could be heard the sounds of "oohs and ahhhs" as my gaze fell onto page after page of delightful desserts, cookies, and dinner ideas placed upon the most amazing and elaborate table settings for any home at Christmas time. Thinking out loud I said, "This is the year! I am going to revamp my menu, out with the old recipes, the worn, boring, and ho hum dishes." Thumbing through the pages of delectable mouthwatering pictures I could just see myself in my new red dress, pearls and heels, placing the platter of cider braised pork shoulder along side of the butternut squash mash with the peppermint ribbon Christmas cake holding place of honor on the kitchen counter, while my family claps with pride and enthusiasm for my efforts. The reality of life is that the picture of this perfect Christmas scenario is no more going to happen then when I was a little girl circling with a crayon all the toys I wanted Santa to bring but I knew I would not get.
Christmas traditions. The idea of traditional is the flood of memories that come through doing basically the same time honored things, year in and year out, almost without exception. The same foods, goodies, decorations, the same lists checked once, twice, three times before the big day finally arrives. I love my old family favorites while my husband wants us to start our own traditions. So every year we try something different, whether it be a food or place, a decoration or gathering, I want to honor his idea for a traditional Christmas with something new. While neither of us have pictures of sugar plums dancing in our heads, neither do we have ideas of an extraordinary holiday with all the glitz and glitter of Southern Living magazine.
Whether I dress up in a new red outfit with high heels and pearls, create a sumptuous menu, or decorate my home in all the lush greenery and ribbons, my love for the season will remain fast with every memory from Christmas past. Every tradition only serves to emphasize the depth of happiness associated with Christmas, beginning when I was a child hoping for that one of a kind doll, to when my own children discovered the hidden stash of Santa in my closet, to today's holiday, watching my grandsons expectant faces light up underneath the tree lights. These are not the traditions of Christmas only the leftover residue from each one celebrated all so long ago.
Tradition is important for a healthy and successful holiday within the boundaries of personal design and desire trying to keep those ideals that we were taught and have continued to pass on to our families. My daydreaming about wearing a red dress and pearls is humorous only; I will most likely wear jeans and a sweater. What we do desire in the way of Christmas traditions is the spirit that comes with knowing who, what, and why, we celebrate with our favorite things, food, family, and music, the reason for the season; Jesus was born on Christmas morning. Now we are getting to the real heart of the traditional season with all its celebration and customs, keeping Christ in Christmas.
A star upon the tree or maybe an angel, both are representatives of that wonderful wonderful night so long ago, serving to keep in our hearts and minds that a king was born. A creche in the yard or a manger scene on the living room table remind us of the real people in the story; these are traditional displays of the true meaning and spirit of Christmas. The children practicing for the church play, learning their lines, all be it reluctantly, singing Christmas carols knowing only the first verse and chorus, these things are making memories and creating traditions. Visiting the shut ins from church or hospital bound patient, sharing the spirit of the season, here are true blessed traditions that make the holidays merry, bright, and bring them to life in our hearts and memories.
Where is Christ in Christmas when you fight the Black Friday crowds to save a dollar or two? Where is he when you end up in an argument with your spouse over where to hang the lights or whether to even put up a tree? Where is Christ when all around you all you can see is tinsel and ribbons, snowmen and Santas, dollar signs and drained bank accounts? Where is the real spirit of the season? It will not be found in a red dress or pearls, in exotic recipes and a dip in the bank account, nor underneath a brightly lit tree with an angel on top with the gaily wrapped presents waiting to be opened. Christ in Christmas is displayed in each of us as his light shines from within and out onto the world that tries so hard to remove him. Christ in Christmas is kept there, not by a mythical charm that appears once a year, but in the smiles given to the clerk who is struggling to get through a tough shift, the hands reaching out to help the needy, and by true believers sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the true and meaningful traditions of Christmas.
Traditional Christmas, laughter and happiness, song and cheer, food and giving; all these are wonderful ways to enjoy the holidays. Red dresses and pearls, fancy decorations and delectable meals all have a real place in some Christmas celebrations, maybe just not in my own. What does belong in all of the "twelve days of Christmas" is the Spirit of Christ. The baby in the manger born to be King of every man's heart, the virgin birth and the angel visits, the shepherds in the fields and even the animals in the barn, all of these are the real traditions of Christmas that should be first and foremost what we think of when we begin to prepare our hearts for this coming and every Christmas.