Adventure 11: Christmas, Old Fashioned

Merry Christmas!

While my husband will tell you that it’s still Advent and that the twelve days of Christmas don’t officially start until Sunday, it’s pretty clear to me that Christmas is only a breath or two away.

With that in mind, it seems only fitting that this week’s adventure should be all about Christmas. And so it is. Adventure 11: An Old Fashioned Christmas.

What is an old fashioned Christmas? I suppose it probably means different things to different people, but there are, I think, a few traditions that can generally be considered to be, if not universal, at least exceedingly common.

  1. Church. Christmas is, at heart, not a national holiday or a corporate holiday or even a cultural holiday. It is a religious — specifically a Christian — holiday. A holy day. Holy. Our church has two services on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas morning. We’ll be at all of them.
  2. Children. The central figure in the Christmas story isn’t Mary, or the angels, or the sheep. It’s the baby. Jesus. At Christmastime we remember and celebrate the King of creation’s birth as a human child: a child who wore diapers (what else did you thing swaddling clothes were?), drooled, spat up, cooed, cried, giggled, toddled, ran, played, skinned his knees, gave his mother sticky, wet kisses . . . I could go on and on, but you get the idea. A child is at the heart of the Christmas story. Children ought to be (whenever possible) at the heart of every one of our modern-day Christmas stories. At our church, the children stage a Christmas pageant at the first Christmas Eve service. (This year, I’m mother to a sheep, an angel, and Joseph.) Afterwards, the old folks in the congregation carry out an old tradition by giving them paper bags filled with nuts, candies, and oranges. I love that.
  3. Family. An old fashioned Christmas is a family affair. Mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — the more the merrier! This year, we’ll be gathering with my parents and sisters on the day itself. After Christmas, we have plans to  visit my grandmother and other dear extended family members in Indiana. The laughter and warmth of our time together will be a highlight of my holiday, for sure. (It always is.)
  4. Feasting. Whether you’re dining on boar’s head and wassail or ham and bubbly, Christmas is a time for feasting. In addition to other holiday cooking, we’ll be baking Christmas cookies on Friday. (Brace yourselves for more cute pictures of children dusted with flour.)
  5. Music. We’ve been singing Christmas carols off and on for the last several weeks, and we don’t intend to leave off just because it’s Christmas. We’ll just sing more. And louder. You may even be able to hear us where you are. Singing and making music are, for me, central to an old fashioned Christmas. I should note here, that, while I love the “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together” CD as much as anyone (maybe more), I do strongly feel that Christmas music is just better (and certainly more old fashioned) when it’s DIY.

Hmm . . . let’s see: church, children’s pageant, grandma, cookies, carols. Have I missed anything? Oh, yes . . . presents.

Also: a tree. An old fashioned Christmas needs an old fashioned tree.

What to do about the presents? Let me consult my old fashioned friends. Jo March of Little Women reminds me of the time Marmee gave her and the girls those little books of wisdom for their Christmas presents. Laura Ingalls of Little House fame reminds me of the time she saved up to buy Pa a pair of ten cent suspenders.

I suppose we must have presents, then. Not only do we owe it to almighty American consumer-driven economy (blech), but our children would be heartbroken without them. We’ve put off buying them stuff all year by telling them to “put [whatever it is] on their Christmas lists.” So yes: presents there will be (though, taking a cue from ten-cent Laura, they won’t be exorbitant).

It is, HOWEVER, my sincere hope and confident belief that, twenty years from now, when I ask my children what they remember about this Christmas, it will not be the modest assortment of gifts waiting for them under the tree that comes first to their minds.

I’ll wager that what they remember and cherish will be the other things — the songs, the hugs, the feasting, the flicker of candles in a darkened church, the noisy laughter of family gatherings, the eternal story of God with Us that began so long ago with the birth of one small child. I say this confidently because these are the things I now remember and cherish from my own childhood Christmases: those precious, old fashioned holiday traditions that have lasted and that will, if we keep our wits about us, continue to last long into the future.

Merry Christmas.

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