Topol sings about "Traditions" while fighting a losing battle to keep them in "Fiddler on the Roof." My cousin Rebecca insists on keeping the menu the same every Thanksgiving, even the Stove Top Stuffing, because it's “tradition.” I found myself thinking a lot about traditions this past Christmas season,, and crying out for traditions to remain the same. I spent Christmas Eve baking, cleaning and pondering. In the morning I had read a Christmas message from some missionary friends, newly arrived on the field in Honduras. They are going through the initial phase of culture stress; feeling lost, inadequate, frustrated, and exhausted by the daily toll of it all. Moving from the Pacific Northwest to Central America is quite the change. Amongst all this change, is a remarkable gift and opportunity at this time of year. Christmas will not be the same, no fir trees to decorate (at least not real ones), no need for wool sweaters – t-shirt and shorts are fine, no push of consumerism in the same masterful way America does Christmas, a new house that isn't familiar enough just yet to be called home – Christmas was inevitably going to be different for this family. While it could be disappointing and emphasize all that this family has given up to serve in Honduras, it is also a gift. With all the traditions of Christmas for this family stripped away, or at least seriously mixed up, they have the chance to refocus on the real meaning and event of Christmas. The entrapments that divide our attention and dilute the holiness of this day have been minimized (not eliminated). Instead of a normal Christmas they have been given a time to reflect on what Christmas really means, and how they want to celebrate, what traditions to keep that have meaning, and an opportunity to create new traditions. That is a gift, a unique and wonderful opportunity. I am a little bit envious.
Like Topol, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle to keep traditions alive this year. I sounded like my cousin, lobbying to keep traditions. It was the first year that we purposely were not spending Christmas with the extended family. David and Kayle were spending the day with her family, Gary and Sue were going to Bend to spend the holiday with Rebecca, Rob and the kids. We chose to stay in town as Chris was flying in on Christmas Eve, and his girlfriend the afternoon of Christmas. Instead of the usual family gathering, we invited three other families to join us for Christmas dinner. For every other holiday that involves special meals, I've been an advocate for inviting lots of people. Christmas has not been one of them, it's time for family. But I was excited for this year. I didn't want it to be just the five of us and the Carlocks are like family and I wish I was part of the über-fun Childress family. With all the changes to Christmas this year, and despite my mother's best efforts to dissuade me, I insisted on keeping the tradition of aebelskiver for dinner on Christmas eve. In order to perpetuate the tradition one more year, I had to host dinner, which was fine by me. We went to the Christmas eve service afterwards at my parent's church, which was fine, but not satisfying. I stayed up late to keep my own tradition of watching midnight mass at St. Paul's Cathedral at the Vatican. Christmas morning I went over to my parents to join the rest of the family, exhausted and not feeling top notch. Chris sat in the red wingback chair watching me through the window struggling with a box filled with my gifts for the family. Apparently the lack of shoes, and the NBA, prevented him from helping me. We still do stockings, and this year we unpacked all the goodies, while watching a game. I don't even know what game, there were actually several that he would flip back and forth between. It was disappointing. This is CHRISTMAS! Can't we turn off the TV today, of all days? We moved to the living room to open presents, the only way to get Chris' attention off of NBA and with the present company. But the living room wasn't even cleaned up before he was parked in the red chair again, watching a game. I was mad. After doing all I could to help mom out before dinner started, I went for a walk. A time to walk out some frustration, enjoy the sun, see the blue sky, have the wind in my face, reflect, and hopefully wake up a little.
The friends started arriving around 3 pm. We had a pleasant dinner. I still am sitting at the “kids” table, even at age 36. The funny thing is, that I had one idea about how the day would go, and didn't consider that those who would be joining us for our un-traditional Christmas dinner, were also changing their traditions; and may have traditions that they didn't want to change. Such as going out after dinner. Shortly after dinner, Courtney, Joy and Luke left to go to the Blazer game. (Ack! What is up with basketball and Christmas??!!) Connor and Spencer decided to go down to the Childress' home to sleep or play video games. Which left me, with Jillian, a junior in high school, along with the older “parents.” Not what I had anticipated. Not how I had wanted to spend Christmas. It didn't feel like Christmas. It was pleasant enough, but subdued. It was just an odd year. Nothing much was the same, and without the familiar it didn't seem like Christmas. And I realized that even when you are still in the same physical place, Christmas can be all jumbled up and different, it doesn't take moving to a different country. And maybe the Wigg's are not the only ones given a gift to re-examine the meaning of Christmas. But if it is going to be different (I'm anticipating more changes next year), why not move? Maybe next year I'll celebrate Christmas in Honduras too!
The day after Christmas I logged on to Facebook and looked through all the pictures of Christmas, Honduran style. I wasn't envious any longer. I was out right jealous. 50+ people for dinner at the Micah Project house, now that's a celebration!
While I missed doing one of my own traditions, reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas and Advent sermons, I did keep another tradition of mine, to buy a new Christmas CD every season. This year I bought three. The last one was from a band called “Downhere” and there is one particular song that cut through all of the noise of the season and reminded me of what we are celebrating. The song is “How Many Kings,”
follow the star to a place unexpected/ Would you believe, after all we've projected,/ A child in a manager?/ Lowly and small, the weakest of all/ Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in His mother's shawl/ Just a child/ Is this who we've waited for? 'Cause...//How many kings step down from their thrones?/ How many lords have abandoned their homes?/ How many greats have become the least for me?/ And how many gods have poured out their heart/ To romance a world that is torn all apart/ How many fathers gave up their sons for me? // Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior/ All that we have, whether costly or meek/ Because we believe/ Gold for His honor, and frankincense for His pleasure/ And myrrh for the cross He will suffer/ Now, do you believe?/ Is this who we've waited for? // All for me, all for you/ All for me, all for you//