It seems as though Christmas is getting increasingly commercialized. Individuals and families looking to preserve Christmas as a holiday of joy and peace may have difficulty doing so. Fortunately, there are ways I’ve found to keep Christmas as the Christian holiday that it is. Over time, my family has even developed some traditions that add a nice touch. Here are some of the Christmas traditions that I’d like to share.
First, since I celebrate Christmas as a religious, rather than secular holiday, I avoid the “Black Friday” to Dec. 26th mania that sweeps much of the country. While the post-Thanksgiving sales are no doubt fun for many, keeping Thanksgiving and Christmas separate from each other provides some necessary “cooling-off” time. Being a member of a liturgical church, Advent helps me stay focused on the “reason for the season”.
For those not familiar with Advent, it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends Christmas Eve. The season not only allows us to prepare for Christmas by focusing on the readings from the prophets who told of Jesus’ coming, but allows us to prepare for His eventual return. The two most common Advent customs that families observe are lighting an Advent wreath and using an Advent calendar.
The Advent wreath can be purchased from larger Christian stores such as Family Christian, as well as Catholic goods stores. It features one candle for each of the four weeks of Advent. Many families place a larger white candle in the middle to be used on Christmas Eve as well. Catholic, Anglican, and mainline Protestant bookstores usually carry booklets with suggested prayers and readings for the Advent wreath. This makes a nice prelude to dinner during this season.
Advent calendars (often called countdown to Christmas calendars) are great for kids, and I enjoyed these growing up. They feature either nativity scenes or other Christmas-related images. Numbered windows from December 1 to 25th are opened to reveal Bible verses, lines from poems, jokes, or even treats such as ornaments or candy. These can be purchased from Christian stores or found in the greeting card department in most department stores.
I’ve taken part in many “Secret Santa” exchanges over the years. These can be a lot of fun, especially in the context of a Christmas party. A lot of times, people end up pleased with a gift that others might not have thought of. My parish takes part in a great outreach activity each December. Along with another Episcopal parish in town, we buy presents for nursing home residents which are distributed at the annual Christmas party. This brightens things up for residents without family.
To simplify things at Christmas, my family has gotten into the habit of distributing small presents during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6th). This helps make sure that the day isn’t dominated by gift-giving. Christmas is a lot less stressful for everyone when the original meaning is maintained.