Now in no way was my family perfect; we were three boys with my oldest brother only 4 ½ years older, but Christmas, as it is for many, was a special time. Until I turned 16 it represented everything good in life. Christmas in our house was special.
We would go to the early service, some time between 5 and 7 depending on the year. We’d come home and change into something comfortable. Mother would make what she called Russian Tea for us and something a little harder for the adults. We would eat appetizers and other finger foods and settle around the tree and open our presents. Being the youngest, and with too much energy to sit still, I got to be the one to hand out the presents. This was what I liked the best, sometimes even more than getting my own! Then we would go to bed, and mother would stay up and wrap the “Santa Gifts” while watching the Pope. BTW we always knew about that.
Though I found out much later that the tradition of opening on Christmas Eve is typical of central European families, my mother always said, Santa gifts aside (which were nothing more than candy and very small toys anyway), that we did the gifts on Christmas Eve so that Christmas Day was not about what we want, rather, it was about what we have. For me this meant often meant sitting with my mother curled up next to my grandmother talking for most of the day. And I always thought that is what she meant. Like many children I did not listen to the whole truth she gave, because the Christmas of my 16th year, which I wrote about that last week, taught me that the greatest gift we had was that God Loved us more than we could ever imagine, even more than my grandma, which seems almost impossible to me!
The truth about Christmas is that it is a made-up holiday. It is not something that was important to the early church and when you dissect it, the holiday really is nothing more than a series of pagan rituals interspersed with biblical text. I don’t say this to knock Christmas, rather to lift up Christmas for what it is, a time for us to celebrate that which God has given to you.
Thus, all the traditions your family might have, all the moments of that day lead up to the time when you remember what it is all about, celebrating the life we have because God did not and will not abandon us. He sent His Son once to give us Hope, and He will send His Son again to bring salvation.
So whatever traditions you may follow this year, whatever stories you might talk about, know that all of it points to the very special truth that God Loves you more than you will ever know, so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice for you.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen