A tangible reminder of the reason we celebrate in the first place.
For me, Christmas will always mean baking. I grew up with a mom who made sure there were always homemade treats around, and Christmas meant triple the normal amount. I can recall so clearly my excitement when I saw Mom bring home the ingredients she’d be using over the next few weeks. One of my favourites was some sort of ball made with candied cherries, coconut and marshmallows. We also had mincemeat tarts, jam thumbprint cookies, pecan crescents, and (my dad and brother’s favourite) Scottish shortbread.
Now that I have two daughters of my own, and an inherited love of baking, I’ve adopted some of mom’s recipes, and added some new ones: gingerbread cookies, chocolate bark, chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, and eggnog cookies.
I often get my daughters to help with the mixing and stirring, though they’re usually better at eating the creamed sugar and butter than anything else. They love to eat the results as much as I do, and I hope, when they’re older, Christmas memories will include these special sweet treats. However, for them, Christmas will also include a different tradition.
The church we went to for quite a number of years (the only church my girls have known) has an olive wood nativity set that you can sign up to receive. During December, it travels from house to house, delivered by the family who had it before you, with a little notebook inside the box where you can write down prayers and well wishes and other thoughts that might have sprung up while having the nativity in your care. You pray with each other as the set is passed from one family to the next, and there is excitement as we unwrap each character and place them in a special spot under our tree.
But something else comes along with the nativity: sheep! The knitting group at church spends months knitting cute little sheep for all the kids in the congregation. And every year it has been the same: my girls remove ALL the sheep from the bin, line them up on the couch, and get very serious about choosing the perfect ones.
We no longer go to that church. That’s another story for another day. But my youngest daughter said to me recently, “I want to sign up for the nativity again! Can’t we go back to church?”
Was a new toy part of the draw? I have no doubt about that. But I believe there’s more to it. The nativity – and accompanying knitted sheep – had become a part of my girls’ Christmas traditions. A tangible reminder of the reason we celebrate in the first place.
“[T]raditions and rituals are about being mindful of the moment, and are designed to demand attention and imbue life with meaning,” writes Dr. Justin Coulson, author and parenting researcher, in a blog for the Institute of Family Studies.
I would think our traditions carry even more weight when they are connected to our faith and a faith community – things that seem harder and harder to come by for so many of us.