By Rachel Van Hook
Every Christmas when I was growing up, my grandparents bought me a new wood ornament in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Each one has my name and the year written neatly across the front. Each one represents a part of me. I have a Minnie Mouse, a ballerina, a cheerleading teddy bear, and even a sewing machine. By far those are my favorite ornaments, and I look forward to hanging them on our Christmas tree every year. (Side note: if my grandparents were to get me an ornament that represented my life now, they would be looking long and hard for a little woman figure with a messy ponytail, a sweatshirt, a glass of wine, and no make-up. But I’m not sure if they make those. I guess it’s a good thing they don’t still get me ornaments.)
Every Christmas when I was growing up, my mom declared National Christmas Cookie Decorating Day. She made enough sugar cookies to feed our whole neighborhood, and it was just about the messiest day ever. Our sugar cookies lined the countertops and kitchen table, and of course there was a plate full for Santa.
Every Christmas when I was growing up, my parents took us to the Christmas Eve service at church. We sang traditional Christmas hymns. Someone read the story of Jesus’ birth, which somehow never got old. Then, one by one, we lit white candles. The preacher prayed, and afterwards my family attempted to take a decent picture in front of the church’s poinsettia tree. My grandpa then slowly drove us around town to see all of the most beautifully decorated houses. Once we got home, we watched Miracle on 34th Street and went to sleep.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love Christmas traditions. I love to ask other people, “What’s your favorite holiday tradition?” I love watching others slip into a sweet state of nostalgia as my question stirs up beautiful holiday memories. It’s so special, isn’t it? Whatever your family did each year when you were growing up, it was important. It was yours. It may not have been over the top, it may not have been perfect, but it was yours, and it was enough.
After my husband and I got married, I vaguely remember one of our first conversations about having children centering on what kinds of holiday traditions we wanted to create with them. I believe creating new family traditions is one of the most exciting things a couple can do as they begin thinking about the future. Now, Christmas is just around the corner, and I have three girls and the cutest of husbands to celebrate this special time with! I get giddy thinking about celebrating the birth of my savior in so many different ways. The delicious goodies at every house I visit has me gaining five voluptuous and oh-so-worth-it pounds. (Don’t worry, ‘tis the season for stretchy clothes!) The construction paper countdown chains we make together are fun to duck under every time we go in and out of the kitchen. And y’all- don’t even get me started about my Pinterest board of children’s Advent ideas! When it comes to Christmas, you name it, I love it!
As a mom, though, I need to confess that lately, I’ve found myself getting a little anxious, nervous, and—I won’t lie—even a tad overwhelmed with my favorite holiday. I spend so much time scrolling through everyone else’s ideas, recipes, crafts, and pictures that I find myself getting carried away with other people’s ideas rather than just enjoying the holiday and creating my own family traditions.
It’s tough. Even with all of my own special traditions and plans in place, sometimes I allow jealousy, guilt, and lies from the enemy to sneak into my heart and mind Grinch-style and steal the focus from what matters most: the quality time and the making of memories that traditions are meant to bring to my family. My heart has become so heavy about comparing Christmas traditions that I actually sat down with some of my dearest friends so we could talk about it. I realized I wasn’t the only one struggling with comparing my Christmas beliefs and traditions to everyone else’s. Turns out it’s common.
I am for unity among believers. I like to think, “I’ll do my thing and you do yours.”
Why should Christmas be different than any other time of the year? I would love for us to join together this holiday season to be confident in whatever traditions we choose for our families. Whatever you choose, do it with joy! Don’t get trapped in the comparison snare, because the traditions we choose and the memories we create through them are going to be the ones our kids look back on one day as people ask them, “What’s your favorite holiday tradition?”
Rachel Van Hook was born and raised in the Casey Jones capital city of Jackson, Tennessee. She’s mom to three girly girls, married to her church camp sweetie, and passionate about . . . well, according to her husband, she’s just passionate! Rachel blogs at racheljvanhook.com.
Photograph by Jill Wellington.