The Fifty-Third Letter: It’s Not “Almost” Christmas

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Dear Daughters,

My family didn’t have a lot of Christmas traditions when we were growing up. Is it because my parents were divorced and we had to be flexible about shared holidays? Maybe so. I don’t remember ever minding, and the lack of tradition has led to some funny stories.

One year, at my dad’s house, we didn’t even have a tree, just presents piled in the living room. Your Uncle Stephen and I decided this was unacceptable, so we snuck down on Christmas Eve and built a Christmas tree out of cardboard. We strung it with lights and everything. I think we were mostly amusing ourselves.

Even now, your Grandpa and Grandma Sands have a “kerplunk” tree–a small artificial tree they keep fully decorated in their attic, covered with a garbage bag, that they can pull out during the holidays, remove the bag, and just “kerplunk” it down in the living room.

I tell you all of that to say, I am not someone who, generally, has tradition flowing through my veins.

Okay, so we did have a few traditions with my mom–we often picked out a real, live tree, and we usually decorated it the Friday after Thanksgiving, the same day we would celebrate Stephen’s birthday. Stephen usually wanted shoo-fly cake as his birthday cake. Your Grandpa Troutman’s mom, my grandma Ginny, would buy us each an ornament. After she died, my mom took up that tradition.

So there was some tradition, to be fair to my mom. And I appreciate that.

But I also like to chuckle about the cardboard tree. It makes a good story. Maybe it’ll make it into a novel someday.

No, I was not raised to particularly cling to tradition, which might surprise you, and might surprise most everyone who knows me now as an adult. Because I care a lot about the way our little family observes the liturgical calendar. Your dad and I spend a lot of time thinking about it, talking about it, working toward living into this crazy thing called the church year. We think it can shape the way we live out our faith. And we think it can shape the way we do family together.

That’s the background I needed to give before I got to this part:

This week is Thanksgiving. Today was the Thanksgiving feast at the preschool.

Last week, as I tucked the eldest into bed one night, you whispered to me excitedly, “Momma! It’s almost Christmas!”

Oh, girl, it is not almost Christmas.

But I understand why you might be confused.

Some of your friends’ parents have fully decorated homes already. On the drive home from church last night, we noticed a lot of Christmas lights out in the neighborhood, complete with lit-up candy canes lining the road. You’ve started practicing songs for your Christmas program. People are starting to ask you what you want for Christmas.

Let me say it again: this week is Thanksgiving. Sunday marks the first week of Advent.

Advent is four weeks long.

Then it will be Christmas.

In our house, we spend a lot of time talking about Advent, as we head towards Christmas. We decorate our Jesse Tree, reading the messianic stories every night as we approach Christ’s birth. We light candles. On the first Sunday of Advent, we set up our Christmas tree, but we leave it undecorated for a week, and then each Sunday in Advent, we add a little more. Our nativity stays empty until Christmas Eve.

You love this as we do it.

Every year, you get so excited.

And this year, you’re old enough to know that other people are already excited about Christmas.

So that’s where the problem comes. In this season before the season before Christmas, I don’t want you to rush to the end of the story.

And it’s hard to wait. I’ll be the first to admit it.

I myself love Christmas carols. It may be true that I bug your dad about singing them before our agreed-upon time each year. It may  be true that I occasionally agree to read one of the Christmas books you bring to me throughout the year. (Your dad does not.)

But–and this is important to point out–we don’t skip the nativity story in your children’s Bible when it crops up every few weeks with nightly reading. I love those stories. The earth waiting for the Messiah. The magi. The shepherds and angels. Mary’s journey. No, we don’t skip those stories the rest of the year. We read through them because they are part of the grand narrative of Scripture, but they are not the whole story.

We don’t get to skip ahead to whatever story we want because some stories are more fun than others. We can’t skip over the creation story, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Isaac, Leah, David and Goliath. We can’t skip over Isaiah and Ezekiel.

Just like we can’t skip from the birth of Jesus straight to his death and resurrection. We don’t get the complete story if we don’t talk about the feeding of the five thousand, the calming of the storm, the healing of the bleeding woman who was brave enough to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.

I really think we miss out on something significant when we rush to what seem like the most important parts of Scripture.

The same is true with the liturgical calendar, girls.

This last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday. 

I was thinking that in this political season, it might be the most important Sunday we could be celebrating, reminding ourselves who we serve, who “has got the whole world in his hands.” (You came home from church practicing that for your Christmas program. For the record, I’m okay with this as a “Christmas” song.)

Most Christians I know didn’t even know about Christ the King Sunday. Most wouldn’t care even if I did point out it is always the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, and that Advent is the first Sunday of the church year. Every year.

Most of my friends are already talking about Christmas trees, about hanging up their outdoor decorations before the cold front came through.

And that’s okay.

But that’s not our family’s tradition.

Our tradition is to wait.

And waiting is hard.

I love your excitement about Christmas, and it was hard for me to tell you the other night, “Actually, sweet girl, no, it is not ‘almost’ Christmas. We’ve got a lot of waiting before Christmas. We’ve got the Jesse Tree, remember?”

And you were okay with it.

But I’m thinking that someday maybe you’ll be writing a letter to your own daughters about your holiday traditions growing up, and maybe you’ll say something like, Dear daughters, my mom was kind of crazy about a couple of things, especially with the liturgical calendar, let me tell you…

Love,

Your Momma

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