It’s coming towards the end of November and Christmas is drawing closer with increasing speed. In many ways I feel more organised than ever this year. We’ve already decided what gifts we’re going to buy and amazingly we’ve bought quite a lot of them already. It will be just the three of us on Christmas day, which is a first, so we’ve started talking about what we’re going to eat & drink and have even started to buy a few bits to spread out the cost. Baring in mind it’s almost December, that’s definitely a first! Despite all of that though, at the same time I can’t help but feel unprepared for the Christmas season.
Since being married, Berno and I have had quite a few conversations about how we celebrated Christmas as kids and our different family traditions. Now we’re parents, it’s become even more important and we’re still trying to decide what it should look like for us as a family and start shaping our own way of ‘doing’ Christmas.
Berno grew up in South Africa with a totally different experience of Christmas to most of the Western world – no Santa, no tree, no gifts, well, perhaps some stationery for school. I was so surprised when I heard what Christmas was like in his family. It seemed a lot less fun than my version! We had the works – stockings, Santa, a tree, lights, decorations, a big Christmas dinner, gifts etc. My parents are Christians and would reiterate that Jesus (not the presents) is the most important part of Christmas. We went to church in the morning, but I remember hoping that part of the day would pass quickly so that we could get back for what I thought then were the best bits; the food and the gifts!
The only similarities between my experience and Berno’s were that we both went to church with our families in the morning and afterwards returned home to enjoy a family meal. Sometimes with extended family, sometimes just the immediate. It wasn’t a fancy roast dinner in Berno’s case though.
Initially I felt a bit sad when Berno told me about what Christmas was like in his family. I thought it was a shame he didn’t have the experience I had. His Christmas just seemed less joyous and ‘full’ I suppose. It annoyed me sometimes that he wouldn’t embrace the fun in it all. Often deep down, especially when the time came to buy gifts, I wished that he’d just had a similar experience so that we could get on with enjoying the ‘normal’ way of doing Christmas. All that said, when I really thought about it, I was also intrigued to understand why his parents did’t put up a tree, buy gifts and the reason why they aren’t fans of Santa. I discovered that the answer lies in the origins of these traditions and their desire to solely focus on the Christian aspect of the celebration.
More recently I’ve come to really appreciate our conversations about Christmas and I’m grateful that Berno did have a completely different experience to me. It has made me reflect and question; why we celebrate Christmas the way we do in the western world; what the impact of that is; what is important to us as a family and consequently how we want to bring Heidi and her brother or sister up to celebrate. Thinking and talking it through isn’t particularly comfortable and it’s not always ‘fun’. Our conversations often challenge cultural norms and let’s face it, it’s tempting to just stick with what’s expected and ‘normal’, it’s easier and prevents confrontation and awkward conversations. But I really have to ask myself what is more important? What do I really think? And am I siding with what is culturally acceptable because it is the norm and just easier?
This is why I feel unprepared, because as much as I know where we stand on some things, I am unsure about exactly what our family Christmas will look like.
Deep down, whilst not wanting to be a total scrooge, I can’t help but feel that a lot of what we focus on at Christmas time has become all too distracting. Yes, I love giving, I love the food, the decorations and most of all the family time together, and I’m not saying that we will just throw all of these things out. However, I also admire the simplicity of the way Berno’s family celebrated and I want to be mindful about the way we do it. I’m relieved that although Heidi is more aware this year (she’ll be 20 months this Christmas), we still have time before she gets used to a certain way of doing things. We need more time to nail down our approach!
Our family Christmas traditions so far…
Focusing on the birth of Jesus
I do know this, that for us as a family, Christmas is about celebrating Jesus’ birth. It’s a time to reflect and celebrate the fact that he came to earth to save us and make us part of his family. We want this to be the core of our Christmas celebrations and we know that.
Being generous and blessing those in need
We also really appreciate the opportunity Christmas brings to bless others and be generous. One major thing I really struggle with about Christmas is the commercialism it brings and that gifts are often expected rather than a blessing. This is something I wrestle with a lot and don’t know the solution to, but we really enjoy blessing others and want to bring Heidi up to focus on the giving not the getting. One way we have decided to do this practically is to get her involved in making Christmas boxes for the shoebox appeal.
Enjoying family time together
Life can be incredibly hectic and one the things I love about the Christmas holiday is being able to slow down and spend time with family. One family tradition I loved as a child was going for a long walk on boxing day. This is something I really hope we continue as a family – getting outside and enjoying nature together. It does the world of good for everyone.
Tree Star, decorations & Santa Jesus
If you visit our home this Christmas we’ll have a star instead of a tree. We made it last year as a star reminds us of the real Christmas story and has more significance to us than a tree. As for Santa, we won’t be including him in the Vierbergen family Christmas, but instead we want to find ways to help Heidi, and her brother or sister, find wonder and excitement in the story of Jesus’ birth as well as what that means for us today. When the time comes we’ll be able to tell them all about Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for Santa, and how he generously gave gifts to the poor.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes Christmas for you, how you choose to celebrate and why, and if you’ve created certain traditions in your family to help you focus on the true meaning of Christmas.