Christmas is a season during which we often place great weight on tradition. We reenact, year after year, things we’ve done previously, elements of past Christmases that hold memory and meaning for us. Though we may balk at tradition at other times, we hold on to Christmas traditions with great zealousness.
Yet there are times when those traditions are no longer available to us. Children grow up, family members die, divorce happens, people move, etc. When these things happen, we grieve the loss of traditions. We may bemoan that things are not what they have been. We lose the patterns of holidays that are as comfortable and familiar as well-worn shoes.
We can become angry, blame those whose changes have wrought changes to our traditions, or simply let ourselves become depressed and despairing. When tempted to embrace an unhealthy emotion, maybe it is good to consider the first Christmas and the chaos it caused to all who were a part of it. An unmarried young woman, pregnant, a betrothed who sticks with her at the risk to his own reputation, a birth away from home and the difficult journey preceding it—there really was nothing very peaceful and calm about that first Christmas!
This year I am thinking of ways to create new traditions around this season. The inspiration for this came from my Christmas tree. The Christmas I was separated from my spouse, I almost didn’t get a tree. Not knowing whether the separation would be temporary or permanent, the practical side of me thought not to, but I realized that having a tree could provide an emotional lift in a chaotic and stressful holiday season. To appease my practicality, I purchased a $15 prelit tabletop tree and a $1 package of small star ornaments for it. I tied a small gold ribbon at the top and placed my presents for family and friends around it.
This is my third Christmas with my little tree. While in Portland Oregon with friends, I found small wooden bird ornaments that fit both my tree and my personality (I love birds). Another friend brought me some small shiny balls to add to my tree. Decorating it this year was something I looked forward to, because it represented people and memories that I cherish.
My tree is inspiring me to consider how I might make more new traditions for the Christmas season. I want to embrace that things may be as chaotic as they were the first Christmas, and yet also imagine ways to create traditions that will be touchstones in the sometimes messy circumstances that are indicative of “real life.”
Whether your holiday season is chaotic or calm, I pray you can be patient, loving and centered in God’s peace, not just at this time of year but always. Merry Christmas!