The holidays used to be predictable. Even when I went off to college things seemed to stay pretty much the same. Thanksgiving involved a large breakfast, adding links of thankfulness to our Thanksgiving chain, football — especially the Lions game, and an evening with extended family: one year with Mom’s side, the next year with Dad’s. It was normal, predictable, repeatable. For a few years Thanksgiving got transported to Greenville, South Carolina since the Bros didn’t have the whole week off from college, but even then the formula remained fairly stable.
Christmas was even more predictable. No matter where we were, my family started the day reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 — usually all piled onto Mom and Dad’s bed. Then, as soon as they gave the go-ahead, we kids would race downstairs and search for the pickle ornament (google pickle ornament traditions; supposedly it’s German but in my many travels in Germany I’ve yet to meet a German family with this tradition. But I digress). Bro #2 inevitably got first prize, and then we would open stockings. Then massive breakfast. Then presents, sometimes with Grandparents. Then relaxing and making dinner (both ham and turkey), eating dinner — sometimes with a family from church — then more relaxing and playing with our new presents. It was the same, every year. Predictable, enjoyable, traditional. It has been my favorite day of the year for a long time.
It really didn’t change until I graduated from college and my parents moved to Germany. Since then, no two Christmases have been alike, and this year will follow that new pattern of unpredictability.
When Bro #2 and his Spaniard joyously informed me of their coming daughter (waaaay back in February), I vowed to stay in Greenville with them for the holidays. Well, 4 days before Thanksgiving, Baby got sick and wasn’t able to have visitors. Thankfully, within an hour of finding out my holiday plans were to be “sit at home: do nothing for 4 days,” my kind and loving boyfriend asked me to go to Pennsylvania with his family. Okay, maybe I begged him. (**Note: he is sitting beside me and corrected me that there was no begging involved. Apparently I just mentioned it, and he “pounced on it.”) Either way, I ended up in an entirely new place for Thanksgiving, and it was marvelous.
Speaking of my boyfriend, that also happened between February and Thanksgiving, so I already had to change some holiday plans. Keeping true to my word, I will be in Greenville for Christmas… day. But at 7am the following morning I’m flying out to be with his family. So Christmas is going to be different. Just me and Bro #2 and his wife and their baby — and then Christmas again with a large extended family I’m not technically related to.
So why do I bring all of this up? Everyone goes through this shift, right? I mean, maybe it’s not as drastic as my family’s new normal (not everyone’s parents move to Germany; not everyone’s sister moves to Switzerland), but surely everyone experiences change as the family grows up and older. You stop going to Grandma’s house, and you start gathering at Mom’s house — because she’s the new Grandma, and there are too many cousins and second cousins and aunts and uncles to fit in one house anymore.
You have to start choosing whether to spend the holiday with your side of the family, or your significant other’s side of the family. Your Brothers and Sisters become Uncles and Aunts. Dad is now Grandpa, or Papa. Or maybe you’ve moved far away from your family and are looking forward to a time with new friends or maybe just your cat. The point is, family grows and morphs and the holidays seem to grow and morph right along with it.
Thanksgiving is already past, but let’s think forward to what’s important this Christmas. Traditionally, I would say God, His love, and family. But family might not be in the picture for you. So this year let’s focus on the act of love. Loving the Father who sent His Son to be born and live a sinless life so He could die and rise again to save us from our sinful selves. Loving that Son who lives today, interceding for us. Loving the people God has placed permanently in our lives. Loving the people God sends across our path. Loving the people we may never ever meet. This year, wherever you are, whatever traditions you’re upholding or new precedents you’re setting: remember to love.