I love holiday traditions. They tie the present to the past. They also give promise for the future. During this Christmas season I have done a lot of thinking about the holiday traditions our family celebrates. Some of them stretch back to my childhood. Some of them have not changed. Others have morphed or even faded in their importance. But they each bring a smile to my heart.
Watching Christmas Vacation
Yes, I am starting my list of holiday traditions with an entirely secular, and often inappropriate, movie that has been a part of our family tradition for 25 years. I have learned there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who watch Christmas Vacation. And those who don’t.
When I served FBC Talladega we had a Sunday night “supper club” of sorts. One night, during the Christmas season, we had everyone over to our house after church for chili. And I thought it would be a good idea to watch Christmas Vacation. Our Sunday night group included two families with small children. Now, if you’ve ever watched the unedited version of Christmas Vacation, you know there are several scenes that are not appropriate for small children. No worries. You have to understand. When our family watches, we quote lines. We anticipate the funny scenes. We laugh before they happen .I know the movie so well, I could anticipate and fast forward the VCR through the inappropriate stuff. Or so I told one very protective mother. Let’s just say, the night did not go as well as I thought it would go.
Remember, there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who watch Christmas Vacation. And those who don’t.
“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no! We’re all in this together.”
No, we do not all wear matching pajamas. That’s just weird. But when Emily and Robert were growing up, we let them open one present before they went to bed on Christmas Eve. Pajamas. I think this may have started because we wanted to make sure they were wearing nice PJs in the Christmas pictures. But it quickly became a favorite. In fact, one year when they were both in college, we decided not to do Christmas pajamas. Big mistake. Big. Mistake. Now, this tradition is being passed on to the next generation. Last year, we celebrated Christmas Eve with Emily and her family. And sure enough. Before bedtime, Evelyn got to open one present. Pajamas.
“If it isn’t too much I’d like to get somethin’ for you Clark, somethin’… real nice.”
Christmas Eve “Dinner”
As best I can remember, this tradition dates back to my childhood when we would gather with my aunts and uncles and cousins at my grandmother’s house at some time during the Christmas season. At some point, that gathering moved to our house. And at some point it moved to Christmas Eve. This has never been dinner in the traditional sense. This is more like grazing. Growing up there was always a fresh baked ham. Oh, the smell! And let me tell you, there is nothing like the taste of a warm ham sandwich on Christmas Eve!
Through the years this has continued to be a significant part of our family Christmas celebration. We don’t do ham. But there’s always a ton of food. Lot’s of laughter. Sometimes a game of dominoes. For the past few years, Emily and Brooks have hosted this Christmas Eve “Dinner” at their home in Vestavia, Alabama. That’s the thing about traditions. You hand them down from one generation to the next.
“Save the neck for me, Clark.”
Christmas Eve Worship
Christmas Eve is my favorite worship service of the year. When I was a kid growing up at First Baptist Church of Enterprise, Alabama I looked forward to this service. There was just something about it. Something that anchored all of the other holiday traditions. The church was always full. Really full. Like, where did all of these people come from, full. It turns out, they came from all over. Family members who were “home” for the holidays. Soldiers stationed at Fort Rucker who were away from their families. The church was full. And we sang traditional Christmas carols. We read the story of Jesus’ birth. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper. And we closed singing Silent Night while holding candles.
This has been the one constant holiday tradition throughout my life. As a pastor, I loved sharing it with the churches I served. Especially the way that I served the Lord’s Supper. Instead of having deacons serve the bread and the cup by passing them out. I invited the worshipers to come forward as families. And I served each one of them from the front of the worship center. It was always the most pastoral moment of the year for me as I served the bread and the cup and wished each of them a Merry Christmas.
For the past few years we have gathered with our family and our church family at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia, Alabama. And while Shades doesn’t observe the Lord’s Supper on Christmas Eve, they do end the service singing Silent Night and holding candles… Three thousand candles!
And yes, the little lights were twinkling!
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Just remember…,
The most enduring traditions of the season are best enjoyed in the warm embrace of kith and kin.