Written by Carol Beaver, Legacy Coalition Church Advocate
It is the hap, hap, happiest time of the year, or so says the seasonal song. Indeed, as Christian grandparents, some of our happiest family memories may well come from this thoughtful and holy time of the year. For most, it is a time of reflection and remembrance of sweet family gatherings, favorite holiday foods, and treasured traditions. And the beauty is we do this at least twice within about a month.
We can sit back with some seasonal music playing and recall those huge tables set with the best china and filled with a colorful array of foods blending their aromas in a fragrance like no other. Our mind’s eye sees the people around the table: grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, and sometimes an honorary family member for the day.
Maybe we remember the times when there was an empty chair because a beloved family member died, or a young person went off to serve their country. As we continue our musing, we can almost smell all those foods, and we begin to hunger for the special taste of Aunties’ special recipe.
Some of us recall as far back as when we sat at the “kid’s table.” It was great for a while because adult conversations were boring. However, the time came when we wanted nothing more than to be cool enough to sit at the grownup’s table. I remember the first time my cousin and I had that privilege. It was great until dinner was winding down, the adults were still yakking, and we wanted dessert. That was when we were given the opportunity to clean off the table and start the dishes until the adults were ready for the pie or the steamed pudding.
Our reverie is interrupted as we remember times have changed. Vestiges of those sweet old times remain, but many of us are living a new reality. We are now the adults, the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and lonely friends. Our world is different, less innocent. Fewer people gather around our tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We may celebrate multiple times to have some holiday time with all our family. Maybe we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations to accommodate in-laws or blended families. All this change can make us a little sad or be frustrated. We see traditions fall by the wayside and want to grieve.
However, we need to be the ones who lead the way to determining traditions that should be kept, adjusting those that can be modified, honoring our families fresh new traditions, and accommodating the changes that we cannot make. We do it with prayer and with thoughtful hearts that follow Jesus’ model.
We want the true meaning of the celebrations at the forefront, but we can adjust some of our expectations and plans to accommodate our families. Jesus occasionally broke tradition to bring life and healing to those in need. Taking time to ponder and pray what is most important in our family will guide us to make decisions that are right for them and for us.
As our families change, we embrace new traditions. As intentional Christian grandparents, we can bring activities that keep the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We make plans to teach about gratitude and practice it by writing things we are thankful for on paper to be put in a jar or on pumpkins. We can then look back on our many blessings at Thanksgiving. We can tell or read stories of the first Thanksgiving or share verses about giving thanks.
We can adopt the celebration of Advent. A dear friend made a felt advent calendar for my young daughter. She still hangs that calendar, though we have remade some of the figures added to the calendar’s pockets. Each of the grandchildren gets an advent box from their other grandpa and grandma with 24 tiny gifts or treats to open. Sharing advent readings or devotions also increases the focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
I know from experience that modifying traditions does work, and over time the new traditions take hold and become the way we do this. When I became a single mom, my daughter obviously needed to spend celebration times with her dad’s new family as well as with me and my side’s extended family. For many years we had Christmas Eve together with her grandma and great auntie. Christmas day, we went to a family celebration, and then I put her on a plane to California where she had a second Christmas Eve with her dad’s family. It was hard, but it was right.
That daughter is now the hostess to Christmas. We do all our Christmas celebrations after her boys’ return from their mom’s on December 25. Christmas stockings come first. Then we have our fondue dinner. When that is cleared and the kitchen clean, we move on to our “under the tree” gift exchange, but only after someone has read the Christmas story from Luke, and we pray.
While changes make the experience different from our tradition, we have embraced the opportunities to find new traditions that reflect our whole family and mingle them with the old. In this way, we will continue to come together in anticipation of memorable, yet ever-changing celebrations of the season.