Questions for Holiday Traditions
A few things I ponder when choosing what to do for Christmas.
When choosing traditions around a particular holiday, sometimes I get the process backwards: looking at events in our community or perusing Pinterest then trying to make all those great ideas fit into my life
But that approach has wrecked a bit havoc. I fill my schedule to the brim and attempt to do all of the spiritual and fun holiday things. Then, I close out the season frazzled and exhausted by doing it all, or restless and frustrated by plans I made but couldn’t fulfill.
Patrick Gilger writes that “What we do teaches us how to love… [our] repetitive practices—like shopping or binge-watching or decorating our Christmas trees—point our hearts in a particular direction and by doing so tell us who we are and where we belong.”
So before we press into talking about traditions, we need to consider who we are and where we belong. We also need to question who we want to become and where we want to belong.
Traditions form us. That’s a good thing if they’re forming us in ways that we want, but it’s a bad thing if they’re shaping us in was that run contrary to our values and beliefs.
So who are you? Who do you want to be?
Where do you belong? Where do you want to belong?
Simple questions, I know, ha. But ones worth considering. Of course, if you’re a Christian, the Bible speaks beautifully and authoritatively to these questions, and that’s the place to start if you’re feeling unmoored. I also believe these questions are worth working through in the context of community, whether that community is a literal gathering of people, your ecclesial tradition, and/or books and stories. We’re not made to figure out this life on our own.
And once we have some answers to the questions of identity and belonging, we can start digging into our traditions. I think of traditions as activities we do during set times and seasons to commemorate something important to us.
Over the past few years, I’ve realized that traditions are a gift because they can be a mechanism for change; they’re a tool to help us become who we want to be. I’ve also learned that traditions are valuable because they can tether us to our values and beliefs, even in vulnerable seasons when we are weary, disheartened or apathetic.
But to figure out the right traditions for me and my family, I’ve needed to ask good questions of my right now life.
These Are The Questions I Think About
As I go through my questions, I’m going to offer some answers in the context of Christmas and Advent. But, I’ve found these questions helpful for any season that calls for tradition of some sort. Of course, take what’s helpful, and leave the rest.
Q1: What opportunity does this season/holiday offer me/us?
Christmas offers us a time to celebrate, focus on the story of Christmas and ponder what it means for our lives, and delight in creation (the feasting! beautiful decorations, etc.).
Q2: What makes me feel most like myself? In what conditions do we thrive?
Don’t overthink these questions or unnecessarily moralize them. Just jot down what comes to mind.
I’m a homebody who likes the random adventure. I enjoy reading and the bookish life, and hope to pass that love to my daughter and son. Generally, crowds aren’t my favorite but I enjoy hosting people in our home and going to the homes of friends. I like to cook. I am a messy person and I struggle to manage stuff.
I like the liturgical calendar and the rhythm it offers, but I am not a devotee.
As a family, we love TV + movies. We enjoy having music playing in the background of our day. Anything that’s tightly scheduled stifles us, but we really like simple routines. We also love and put quite a bit of stock on being involved in the life of a local church.
Q3: What are my limits? (Kids’ ages, time, travel schedules, finances, etc.)
I have a baby and toddler. We’re on a budget. This year, we will gone several days before Christmas. I’m caregiving full time for my kids while also working part time.
Q4: What am I already doing that could be “festivified”?
We sing and read before bed. Over meals, we usually find ourselves reciting little rhymes and singing songs. We do crafts and color regularly.
Q5: What will feed my soul?
Thoughtfully decorating my house, planning a few festive meals/bakes, watching some Christmas movies in the evening, and some good Christmas reads.
So, with these questions considered, I’ve found what traditions to-do becomes pretty plain. I shared my plans a few weeks ago, and here’s what’s ended up happening this Christmas season @ the Murrish home.
Our house is decorated. I love Myquillin Smith’s advice of choosing two spaces to focus on when decorating for a holiday. We have our Christmas tree and stockings, and we decorated outdoors for the first time (thanks to finally having an outlet on our front porch!)
We’re listening to Christmas music and singing “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” before naps and bedtimes.
We’ve got lots Christmas picture books on hand to peruse and read together while snuggling on the couch, and before nap and bed.
We used the Read Aloud Revival Christmas book list and I can’t say enough good things about the books. Some are just pure holiday delight, others are beautiful renderings of the Christmas themes. They bring me as much joy as my kids.
I’m also hoping to dig into my Christmas devotional stack and listen to the “Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” I also have “The Afterlife of Holly Chase” on hold at the library and hopeful it will come in before Christmas!
I also really enjoy watching Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir on PBS (v. pumped Brian Stokes Mitchell is back, ha!). I thought “Love Hard” on Netflix was charming.
Our kid nativity set is out and is played with on the regular, fostering a familiarity with and offering opportunities to talk about the Christmas story.
We’re lighting our Advent candles when we can. We’re also memorizing an Advent poem and reading John 3:16-17 throughout the week.
Our church bought this coloring book for toddlers/preschoolers. I love the casual, natural opportunity to talk about Advent when Phoebe’s coloring.
Near/around Christmas Day, we’ll read and/or watch the Christmas story from the “Jesus Storybook Bible.”
I’m planning some festive yet attainable cooking + baking projects for myself.
We’ll do Christmas Eve at our church.
It’s a humble list, but one that honors the limits of our lives. It’s orienting us to God and his story. It’s giving us joy and forming us as God’s people. And from where I sit, that’s what our holiday plans and traditions should be all about.
The Kitchen Doula
Need some ideas of what to make for Christmas? If you’re looking for something spectacular and special, probably best look elsewhere like Half Baked Harvest or Smitten Kitchen.
But if you want some inspiration for holiday meals that keep you in the kitchen but don’t overwhelm, well, I am your gal. Read on!
We’re home for Christmas this year, and we’re excited. Here’s what we’re planning to eat!
Christmas morning is Annie’s cinnamon rolls (why are they so good?) that I’ll unroll to make a Christmas tree shape, tint the frosting with green food coloring and add some sprinkles! We’ll also have scrambled eggs and a simple fruit salad (apples, oranges and frozen raspberries mixed with just enough plain Greek yogurt to coat the fruit and a little brown sugar).
We’ll snack on cheese, crackers, veggies and leftovers for lunch.
Then, we’ll do an early Christmas dinner of homemade lasagna (I’m making a friend’s family recipe, but this is a favorite), Samin Nosrat’s focaccia bread, and a Ceasar salad (made by my neighbor). Dessert is TBD, but I’m thinking brownies and peppermint ice cream!
I’m also trying to make the meals around the holiday easy so we can enjoy being together as a family. Below is what I have planned. We’ll have smoothies, applesauce, cheese and crackers, and veggies to fill in!
Grilled cheese // potato soup (from instant mashed potatoes) // homemade Skyline chili // crockpot cilantro lime chicken rice bowls (a freezer meal) // Toad in a Hole with cheese and chow chow // French toast // cheese tortellini (with bacon, onion, peas, corn + shrimp) // winter sheet pan meal (smoked sausage, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts sprinkled with salt, pepper and smoked paprika) // chicken nuggets and tater tots // Chicken taco chili (freezer meal).
Our plans are nothing fancy, but checks all my boxes for holiday food. Comforting, easy, nostalgic, and fun (v. excited to make Nosrat’s bread).
The past few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking of and reading more about Martha (of Bethany) in the Bible. She’s an easy character to reduce to a caricature (especially around the holidays) because of quick readings and shoddy interpretations of her famous story in Luke 10. And frankly, that’s a shame and we’re the worse for it because we miss so much of what we can learn about God and ourselves through the story of this saint.
I’ve outlined a newsletter about Martha for 2022, with particular attention to the famous Luke 10 story, but right now amidst holidays her story arc in John 11 holds my attention.
After her brother Lazarus dies, Jesus journeys to her and Mary’s home. Martha runs out to meet Jesus on the road, offers him her pain and confusion over her brother’s death, then affirms her faith in the person, power and work of Jesus, even amidst her grief and wonderings.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
I cry reading these words. These days—especially at the holidays—I spend a lot of time thinking about the brokenness and sin in my life, my neighborhood, my country and my world. I am grieved and confused.
And Martha’s story meets me.
While the unfolding story around me doesn’t make sense, I can say, like Martha, that I believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who is come into the world. And then, I am challenged to move toward others and nudge them toward that Jesus, as she did with her sister Mary.
[Martha said to Jesus]: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.”
This is a story I need this Christmas. And I hope it will encourage a few of you as well.
Peace to you on this Monday.