Normally around the holidays I dread going home, especially around Christmas. There’s excitement and joy when I see all the Christmas lights and the various Christmas trees, but when the day approaches, I get a little uneasy about going home. I didn’t used to feel this way, though. From as early as I can remember all the way through high school – maybe even through my freshman year of college – I was overjoyed when Christmas break began. I couldn’t wait until I could get my hands on the Christmas ornaments and the Christmas lights and go to town on our living room. Long ago, I built a Lego house and when Christmas rolled around, I would even decorate the Lego house with Christmas decorations. That’s how excited I was about this time.
Things have changed since then, though. I no longer live at the house I grew up in, I still drive home alone (which isn’t really new), my Legos are stashed away in a storage closet, and my family is now split in different parts of the world (my mom’s in Alaska and my brother’s in Afghanistan). I don’t mean to say that spending Christmas with just my grandpa is a bad thing; it really isn’t. But it isn’t what Christmas used to be. I miss the old days, to say the least.
This is a different Christmas from the previous ones, though. My sister in law flew up from San Antonio and is cooking dinner on Christmas day, which hasn’t happened for a few years at the Cushman residence. When she called me earlier today to tell me her plans, a question struck my mind. Is Christmas about repeating tradition and delighting in the same old things every year or is it about being with family? Looking back through past Christmases, I can remember a lot of the gifts I’ve received, but I think the most memorable moments in my Christmas history have come from the time spent with family. My brother wrestling me to the ground when we were younger, my grandpa beating us both at Risk and Skip Bo, and the wars we’d wage with our new Legos seem to be the clearest memories in my mind. Every time I hear John Lennon’s “So This is Christmas,” I think of all those moments and eagerly want them back. And when I realize they won’t ever come back, I get a little sad. What my sister-in-law’s phone call did, though, was turn my focus forward onto the traditions being made as the days go by.
It hasn’t really been a family tradition, as far as I can remember, to cook a meal on Christmas Day. There’s a casino in Lincoln City with an all-you-can-eat buffet and they’re open on Thanksgiving and Christmas. There were a few years spent at our dining room table devouring a honey-cured ham, but I think most of the time we trekked over to the casino. Heck, we didn’t have to set up the tables or clean up, so it was a double win for my brother and me. But with my sister-in-law cooking us a meal, maybe a new tradition is beginning? Maybe future Christmases will be spent with my brother, his wife, and my grandpa over a good meal? And who knows, maybe some of the old traditions like Risk and Skip Bo could reemerge (though with my grandpa’s flawless win-loss record, I would prefer they didn’t).
The problem I’ve found with placing hope and joy in tradition alone is when they’re removed, a sort of depression is the only thing remaining. Given what Christmas really means, depression should not even exist. Which leads me to believe that if my hope and joy is instead placed into the relationships that are strengthened by change, then whatever change occurs, my hope and joy is secure.
When I read through the birth narratives in Scripture, I see something beautiful. Wise men, shepherds, carpenters (Joseph mainly), and angels were all gathered around this small child named Jesus. The birth of our Lord is not about putting up Christmas lights and decorating a tree or hanging stockings for a non-existent Santa; it’s about people coming together to rejoice in the hope that was created when Jesus was born. It’s about laughing together, crying together, enjoying food together and writing new traditions together. Yeah, I’ve got a lonely drive back to a place that was never really my home (my grandpa’s apartment), but that’s not what this time of year is about. And the more I realize that, the more my heart is opened. This year, my only wish is that I don’t hope for the things I had yesterday, but instead enjoy the new things, the new relationships that are being made today. I think I’m getting what I want for Christmas.