OUR CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
I was sitting here by the Christmas tree on Jan. 7, 2011 doing some reading for an upcoming class that I will be teaching. Taking a break from my reading, I began to look around the still-decorated house, thinking of all of the traditions that we have as a family and how those traditions are so important to our kids. In varying degrees, each one of Nathan, Lydia and Becca insist on doing things "as we always do" each time we prepare for and go through the Christmas holidays. As I thought about all of those traditions and was looking at the ornaments on the tree, remembering where each one came from, I decided it might be good to write down some of our traditions, so the kids have a record of what we've done and how many good family times were had in all of those Decembers.
We always start the season by going to get a tree shortly after Brad's birthday, which is December 2. When the kids were very young, we just went to lots and got one. After a few years, we heard of a place to cut your own tree right here in Eden Prairie, so we tried that...it was a beautiful location, set in the bluffs of the Minnesota River, hilly and forested. The first time we went there, it was snowing lightly, causing me to imagine what it might be like in Vermont during winter. The kids loved taking turns each year helping Daddy cut the tree down, then dragging it to the bottom of the hill to put it on our car. We did this for several years, before the owners told us that they were having to sell their property due to rising tax prices. Sadly, we had to hunt for a new tree farm, which we found the next year, Z's Trees in Waconia, MN. Mr. Z., or should I say, Dr. Z, a retired veterinarian, had a Christmas tree and pumpkin farm not too far from our home. Here visitors were able to get fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies from Mrs. Claus, hot apple cidar, and peanuts in the shell, before hopping on a tractor-pulled trailor for a ride to the trees and if you got cold, you could put a burlap sack over your lap to try to keep warm...that didn't work too well! :) For 3 years or so, we were able to find nice trees at Z's, until the prices and the selection seemed to make it difficult to continue. This year, much to Becca's dismay, we decided to give the cost of cutting your own and finding a new Christmas tree farm a rest and went to Costco, who for the first time, had fresh-cut Frazier Fir Christmas trees for about $30.00...they were big and beautiful! Once we all got past the fact that getting the tree at Costco wasn't as romantic as cutting your own, we could enjoy our lovely tree while realizing that you couldn't beat it for the price and the quality.
After getting the tree and letting it set for about a day, we all decorate as a family. The decoration bins are brought up from the basement, as well as the boxes that hold all of the Christmas village buildings, stockings and lights. Each one of us has a box of our own ornaments, Brad's and mine mostly from our childhood, and the kids' holding ornaments from grandparents, craft projects at church or music class, or ones we've given them. Every year, Brad continues the tradition of giving the kids a new ornament that symbolizes something that went on that year, either a family vacation, mission trip, or significant event for each child that year. Most of the time, he gets the ornaments in advance, but if he hasn't gotten to it yet, he hears about it from our "traditionalists"! :) After the lights are put on, the actual decorating begins, loading the tree with all of the memories of things past and who made what. When enough ornaments are on the tree, Nathan, Lydia and Becca rotate yearly who gets to put the star on top, who hides the stuffed "elf" from Brad's childhood, and though the third option used to be cutting down the tree with Daddy, now it's hiding Momma's little stuffed mouse from her childhood. Once the tree is decorated, we put up the stockings on the fireplace mantle, set up the Dicken's Christmas village buildings, and put up the few other random decorations around the house. Brad usually does the outside lights as well, and gets the treasured experience of finding out which set of lights still work, which worked before you put them up and now don't, demonstrating the seeming truth of Murphy's Law.
Of all of the things which get pulled out of the Christmas bins, some of the best are the Advent devotional books sent to us by Brad's Aunt Colleen. While family devotions are a bit hit and miss during the rest of the year, December seems to be our most consistent time to really focus on the celebration of the coming of Jesus. After dinners or before various meals, we spend time reading the Bible passages and stories about the truth of Jesus, why He came and what it means for us. This year, Brad found a really good book of a collection of writings by Christian pastors, writers, theologians, etc., focusing on, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus." Each one of us would take turns reading the selection for the day, then discussing its meaning to us personally or asking questions. Some of the readings were deep and it was fun to watch the kids dig more into their faith, applying the passages to things in their lives or our culture.
The rest of December is filled with hopes for a white Christmas, Christmas Choir concerts, preparing Christmas music for the church worship teams, shopping for holiday food, presents, or making things to give. With the school Christmas break schedule, always a two-week holiday, Brad can look forward to good time off either before or after Christmas, so the count-down to vacation also happens. With Nathan and Lydia at the high school now, they also count down. Becca takes break when SLP does, enjoying time off when they do. Lots of games are played together, shopping together, playing the piano, making Christmas cookies, and this year, helping Uncle Tim build an igloo in the backyard...one big enough to sleep 4-5 men and stands over 7 feet tall.
Our Christmas Eve traditions are pretty solid from year to year...again, our "traditionalists" won't allow much change, which is ok by me. :) Most of the shopping is hopefully done by then, so the day is supposed to be less stressful. A lot of food preparation is done, but since I really enjoy it, not a problem. In the afternoon, Brad starts cutting up the ingredients for our Christmas Eve fondue, a Brubaker tradition he grew up with, including: beef, pork, mushrooms, peppers, brocolli, onions, shrimp cocktail, and strawberry/cranberry gingerale punch. As a nod toward my many Christmas Eves celebrating in a Danish tradition, I started making rice pudding last year in remembrance of ries en grie. I tried a raspberry fondue sauce one year with fruit, but it ended up in one of our most memorable food explosions ever, which is too long a story to go into now...ask one of us sometime...it includes a physics lesson, miracle protection, CSI-looking Dicken's Village, and more. :) So, now I skip the fruit fondue. In the early evening, we head to church for the Christmas Eve service, many times doing the music, which we did this year. I can't tell you how blessed I was to have all five of us in our office/music room Christmas Eve afternoon, practicing our singing, piano, guitar, harmonies, being led by Nathan, and all of us working together without friction as we practiced our carols for the service. I couldn't ask for more. After worshipping at the candle-light service, we come home to do fondue, play a family game, and then go for a walk in the neighborhood across the road from us that has beautiful homes and Christmas lights. When we get back, the kids go up to the bonus room, where they have an annual sleep-over together, and fall asleep watching "Christmas Story". What a joy to go up to tuck them in, seeing them all lined up in their sleeping bags, even as teenagers, loving time together, never one of them not wanting to do it "as they've always done." Then Brad and I do our traditional wrapping the gifts, filling the stockings, and finishing up the morning food prep...we usually don't get much sleep, but we enjoy this time together, usually watching a goofy bunch of old "Rockford" re-runs, (Brad insists James Garner is the best actor ever.) and do some of our best talking...depending on how tired we are. :)
In the morning, Brad and I get up, make the coffee, tea, orange juice, egg dish, put in the "sticky buns" caramel rolls, the cinnamon rolls, and cut up the fresh fruit, Brad builds the fire, I start the Christmas CD's (Christmas Brass, Julie Andrews, First Call-Evening in December, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Michael W. Smith), and then we call the kids down. We have pictures and videos of each year, but I am sure if you ran them all together, you would see the same things: smiles, oohs and aahs, laughter...awesome times! The morning is spent sharing our gifts with each other, taking turns opening, sharing our Christmas breakfast together, praying with gratefulness to our Lord for His coming and thanking Him for our food, family, and the life He gives us.
The rest of the holiday days are spent with gatherings on the Brubaker side and the Smith side, enjoying and loving family times with the extended families. We are so blessed to be parts of two great families where everyone gets along, loves each other, and loves Jesus. Some years we have traveled to visit family members, which is wonderful; some years, we just stay home and enjoy home, friends and family here. In our first few years of marriage, we spent quite a few Christmases (sp?) traveling to parents' homes, which was a blessing. However, once we started doing our own family traditions on Christmas day, we realized the importance also of having time with just our immediate family, creating memories for our kids that they will be able to share with their future families.
As I've written this down, I am struck by two thoughts: our family's traditions might not seem that marvelous to others, but are treasured by us, and how intensely thankful I am that Jesus gave us a reason to celebrate, giving me the most amazing gift of a family who loves each other, loves to spend time together, values time and tradition, and that my memories, their memories will be ones of happiness and joy. As I have said before, I couldn't ask for more.