Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Family traditions. We all have them, even if we think we're too disorganized to have 'official' traditions, but just ask your kids. They'll tell you what they look forward to year in and year out. It might be something so simple you don't even realize it as a 'tradition' -- such as Grandma's secret stuffing or pie recipe.
Webster's online dictionary defines tradition as: 1a.  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or social custom). 2: The handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word or example from one generation to another without written instruction.
Growing up my family had many traditions but the most notable was going to my Granny and Pop's on Christmas Eve for dinner. The fireplace, glowing brightly,  was adorned with stockings for each of us kids (traditional red and white furry stockings with our name in glitter) overflowing with little goodies and, per tradition, a "Sweet Storybook" with 10 packs of assorted lifesavers. There was always an old 1940's and '50's era Lionel train that would invariably not work for the first 20 minutes but finally started working, with us kids eagerly and impatiently waiting our turn to control it. And, even though my Granny wasn't religious, she'd special order special Christmas Snowballs. They were (I believe) round balls of vanilla ice cream covered in coconut with a little plastic holly berry and green sprig decoration and a single candle. Every year, we'd sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and eat our little snowball. (and then rip open presents!).

Traditions are important; they convey deep shared meaning and provide a sense of anticipation and expectation. I know my own family has lots of little traditions: baking cookies, letters to Santa, pj's on Christmas eve, Elf on the Shelf, and other traditions. Yet I am always looking and mindful of ways to more fully convey what Christmas is truly about. Below are a few ways I've come across that might be helpful.

1. Observe Advent. More than just an 'advent calendar', observing advent (from the latin word adventus  for 'coming') means to observe the four Sundays prior to Christmas. This can be done in many ways, but my family loves to mark and reflect on advent by lighting candles. There are special advent candles you can buy, but you don't have to have a specific set or color. There are many family devotionals that can help lead your family through the main themes of Advent, or you can simply talk and read the Bible as a family. (but light the candles. That's the best part. Trust me).  There are many resources online. One book I thought looked interesting was Elyse Fitzpatrick's Counting Days, Lighting Candles. It guides parents through the Scripture to read each week, as well as devotions for the kids and discussions. Plus, there's a family activity and other ideas. Desiring God recently published a free 2013 Advent devotional resource to download

2. Jesse Tree. This is gaining in popularity; just look at all the ornament offerings on Etsy! . Isaiah 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." Jesse Trees vary in size, materials, and design but the idea is a special set of ornaments, each with a symbol the represent an old testament prophecy pointing to Christ, from creation, to the birth of Jesus. You can make your own paper, or felt ornaments. There are free printables, free templates, free ideas on Pinterest, or you can purchase already made ornaments. A few book resources: The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean, Bree Willey. Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas (disclaimer: I haven't read either of these books as I am new to the whole concept of the Jesse Tree, and I had several reservations with Voskamp's other book, One Thousand Gifts). The idea of a Jesse Tree sounds like a fun, memorable, meaningful way to celebrate Christmas.

3. Nativity Sets. Be it large and expensive, exotic, or a simple playmobil, lego, or Little People set, I love nativity scenes! The type that is 'hands on' is perfect for kids. Let them touch and be a part of this wonderful story!

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