Well, long after most people have retired the Christmas decorations, carols and recollections, I am finally returning to my little series on celebrating Jesus' birthday. Go ahead and call me habitually tardy. At least I can try to finish what I started!
If you read parts 1 and 2, you may remember that Christmas 2010 found us in a unique situation (unique for our family, that is). For starters, we didn't have to travel anywhere on the 25th. For another thing, we had already opened our presents, opting to separate the gift exchange from our celebration of Jesus' birthday.
So what did we do on Christmas Day? Well, with little people, postponing breakfast is never really a smart option. So we started with a simple but hearty morning feast that included rare treats such as orange juice (big hit with the kids) and sparkling apple cider (not so much a hit). During the meal, Dave read us the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2, and the delicious smell of baking cake began to fill the house.
When the food was gone, we cleared the table and piled on the couch for our very favorite retelling of the Christmas story, the gorgeously illustrated This Is the Star. Then it was back to the table for "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus," blowing out candles, and chowing down on gooey Honeybun Cake (which, though yummy, was so astonishingly sweet that even I, Sweet Tooth Queen, may not repeat it).
Next on the agenda: birthday presents for the King! (We know several different families who approach this in different ways--more on that to come.) When the kids got up that morning, there were four white envelopes on the tree, each dangling from the end of a long ribbon. On each of the envelopes was a name: Daddy, Mommy, Meg, Matthew. (Esme was a little too young to get it this year.) Everybody grabbed an envelope and headed for the computer to visit the Reece's Rainbow Angel Tree for children who are awaiting adoption. In each of our envelopes was a check. And each of us had the chance to choose one child to whose adoption grant we wanted to donate. We wrote notes to the Reece's Rainbow folks to explain our checks. We prayed for each of the children we chose, asking God to send their forever families very soon, and to let them learn to love Jesus. Then Dave and the kids tramped across the street in the lightly falling snow to deposit four envelopes in the outgoing mail.
Before lunch and naps, we watched The Miracle Maker together. This movie is a claymation-like account of Jesus' life, from the beginning of his ministry to his post-resurrection ascent into Heaven. I found it to be fairly well done and quite moving.
During the quiet afternoon, I worked on our first Christmas puzzle, and the kids joined me as they woke up from their naps. Unfortunately, we didn't begin this large jigsaw early enough to complete it on Christmas Day, which was my hope. Oh, well. We'll start earlier next year. (One word of praise for the puzzle itself: I was so happy when I got it! For one thing, Mary and Joseph actually look Jewish! No offense to any art-history lovers, but I really do dislike all the classic paintings of blond-headed Madonnas and babies. And this Mary also looks weary and even a little sweaty, like she just [go figure] went through labor and childbirth! Plus there are lots of cute animal details for kids to enjoy.)
When everyone was awake, we launched another new tradition: our Christmas notebooks. We started with five, bright red, three-ring binders. We decorated them with coloring pages featuring Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the stable. Then we had everybody answer two questions each: What is your favorite thing about Advent and Christmas this year? and What do you love most about Jesus? Meg was able to write down her own answers this year; Matthew dictated his. Then we had Meg draw a picture of anything "Christmas"--her choice. She chose the shepherds.(Matthew's attention span was shot after the questions.) Then we clipped the questions and answers and the picture into our binders. We're hoping to do this every year, and watch how the answers to those same two questions change and expand and nuance as we all grow in our love for Christ.
We ended our very merry Christmas with Daddy's favorite dinner--lasagna--since we don't know what Jesus' birthday meal of choice would be. Then we turned out all the lights except for the Christmas tree and listened to Mr. B's rendition of the Christmas Story, courtesy of the GirlTalk ladies. Our kids just loved this. And it was great to end the night dancing and goofing off to Mr. B.'s "Christmas Boogie." (Funny side note: Mike Bradshaw/Mr. B used a little ditty called "Born on Christmas Day" to tie his story together... this is actually a modified version of a song that my mom wrote for my preschool Epiphany program circa 1984. And I bet Mr. B doesn't even know the fascinating historical trivia behind his theme song!)
So... that was our Christmas. And what did we make of having an entire day dedicated wholly to celebrating Jesus' birth and life... and doing very little else?
I can honestly answer that it was one of the most enjoyable Christmases I've had. Now, it definitely felt different than a day with presents. At some point in the day, I did have the thought, "I don't know... does this feel like Christmas?" And then I thought, "I don't care!" The thing is, I want our Christmases to exalt Jesus more--and that should feel different. It's going to feel different, especially at first, and especially to someone like me, who's been doing the American Dream version of Christmas for 30ish years now.
Life is full, after all. There are enough people, activities, traditions, questions, ideas, tasks, demands and opportunities to keep us busy for more years than we have to live. Our hearts and minds are full. Our calendars are full. And for us, Christmas Day was very full. We really didn't have space for more of Jesus unless we were willing to get rid of something else first.
So, yeah, it felt a little weird to set presents aside, and to postpone our time with extended family. It even felt a teeny, tiny bit sad. But it also gave us the space we needed to delight in Jesus Christ more fully this Christmas. And it might, just might, have given our children a truer sense of the glory and mystery of Christ's coming. And that would be worth a little bit of sacrifice.
(Stay tuned for a final post with links and practical ideas that have helped, inspired, encouraged and provoked me as I've thought about celebrating Christmas.)