I love the idea of traditions just as much as the next person, and the warm and fuzzy feelings that word evokes in my heart. However I’ll admit that try as I might to establish and keep traditions, I’ve really struggled over the years with consistency. Which is a problem when you consider the fact that a tradition is all about consistency — right? If you aren’t consistent about it, can you really call it a tradition?
When I reflect on my own childhood, I realize my mother had the same challenges maintaining traditions in our family. I don’t imagine that it was easy in a family with eight children — and extended family living nearby who maintained traditions of their own that my parents often felt compelled to participate in. When it comes to Christmas, we had several traditions that endured for a while but then faded as children got older and my mom desired for us to focus more on the “reason for the season” and less on the gifts. Sometimes her efforts were met with a lot of resistance, and although we tried different approaches over the years, nothing ever stuck.
Looking back now, I can completely relate to where my mom was coming from — and I’m disappointed in myself as the eldest child in the family not to have been more understanding and supportive of her efforts back then. Today, my struggles with Christmas traditions for my own family are very similar. I have the added challenge of having yet another family competing for our attention around the holidays: My birth dad’s family, which is also divided between his father and mother, who have been divorced since he was just a toddler. That makes at least three different family celebrations to attend in a span of 24 hours around Christmas Day. Oh, and did I mention they are all in California — and we live in Colorado?
As you can imagine, Christmas celebrations in the past have been hectic and completely non-traditional for us the years that we’ve packed up all our children — and a load of gifts — to be in California with my family. We’ve had Christmas dinners in hotel banquet rooms and restaurants. We’ve opened gifts around a mini Christmas tree in hotel suites and had to pack large toys into extra luggage purchased specifically to get it home on an airplane. We’ve driven from San Diego (where my Grandma lived) all the way up to the central CA coast (where my mom lives) in the same day to eat two different Christmas dinners — it’s a 5 1/2 hour drive.
And we’ve taken a huge financial hit: Each of these trips, whether we drove or flew, costs us in the thousands. Talk about holiday stress! As much as I love my California family and spending time with them — and I know how disappointed they are when we don’t travel out to visit them at Christmas time — we’ve determined that it’s a tradition we can’t always keep up with, especially if all signs point to staying home.
Which brings me to my mission for our own little family of five: Establish Christmas traditions that are meaningful to us and reflect our desire to celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. When it comes to traditions we’ve attempted over the years or picked up from family in the past, we’ll keep a few that are meaningful to us and fit our mission for celebrating Christmas. And we’re ready to create new traditions of our own!
Homeschooling also gives us the freedom to bring Christmas into our everyday learning. Rather than continuing our traditional school days right up until a designated “Christmas break,” we can incorporate Christmas celebration and themes into our daily school activities. I want to have lots of fun with the girls and enjoy more family bonding time with our traditions, however I also want to take the focus off the commercialism that surrounds us and put it back where it belongs — celebrating the Greatest Gift of Emmanuel, God with Us.
So that’s the plan: It’s my prayer that as I turn this project of establishing our own family Christmas traditions over to the Lord and ask Him to guide our family during this time, traditions will be born that not only stand the test of time, but bless others as much as they bless us. May our family’s Christmas traditions bring more glory to Him and reflect His light in a time when most people completely miss the point.
Have you ever struggled with establishing or maintaining your own family traditions at Christmas? What traditions have stuck with you? Have any of your traditions changed or been influenced by homeschooling?
Editor’s note: Portions of this post originally appeared on this blog on December 2, 2011.