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9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas

For Christians, Christmas is a sacred season. It is the time we set aside each year to celebrate the birth of our Savior. We believe that Jesus, Son of God and Creator of everything, gave up His throne for 33 years. He left the worship and honor He received in Heaven, choosing instead to be born as a helpless human baby, and raised in a humble Jewish family. He served the people He’d created and they despised Him. Eventually, they tortured and killed Him, all of which He knew would happen before He agreed to come.

And if He hadn’t come, we would not be saved. We would have no alternative to eternity in Hell. Without the events that transpired that first Christmas, we would have no hope, no reason for joy. The birth of baby Jesus changed literally everything! This is why we celebrate. Jesus is the whole reason for the season. In my family, we try to be deliberate, to make certain He is the center of our celebration. We have at least 9 traditions which have characterized our Christian Christmas.

Advent Candle: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com The season of Advent is often celebrated by the lighting of commemorative candles.

Advent

ad·vent/ˈadˌvent/noun

  1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
    • the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.

The word “Advent” has become as much a secular idea as it is a Christian one. My daughter received an “Advent Calendar”, which has tiny doors in a box shaped like a Christmas tree. Behind each door are skin care samples. It was a nice gift from her friend, but it has nothing to do with the Advent of our Savior.

We have found wonderful tools, over the years, which have helped to direct our focus through the season of Advent. The important thing is to keep the important thing the important thing. The important thing is Jesus!

Moving nativity pieces

When we put out our Nativity set, we put the shepherds a small distance from the stable, as if ‘in the fields’. The wise men are placed further away, and baby Jesus is not in the mix. When the kids wake up on Christmas morning, baby Jesus is in the manger, the shepherds are up close, and the wise men are on the move! This is one way we remember all that happened on that first Christmas Eve. Even though my kids are adults now, they make a big deal about Jesus not appearing in the manger until Christmas morning!

Nativity sans baby Jesus: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
No baby Jesus because He isn’t born yet. In this Nativity set, Jesus and the manger are one piece, so there is no manger either. My kids would simply not stand for it!

Avoidance of Santa

Santa does not appear in our Christmas. He does not come on Christmas Eve, his likeness is not on our wrapping, and we do not include him at all. We have had discussions about who St. Nick was and the good that he did, but for the most part, we avoid all of that and direct our focus on Jesus.

I’m not saying a Christian cannot include Santa in Christmas. If you do, I’m not trying to shame you. For us, it was simpler not to divide our attention.

My granddaughter spent the night somewhere else this past weekend. When she came home, she told me that Santa could see and hear everything we do. I said, “That sounds like Jesus!” She said, “But the best presents come from Santa, so it is important not to disappoint him.” It broke my heart that, even though we don’t give Santa any room in our traditions, he rose to the level of Jesus, in her regard, in just one evening away. Attributes belonging to the King of Kings are His alone. A heart cannot serve two masters.

No Elf on the Shelf

As with Santa, we steer away from Elf on the Shelf. Elves are part of the Santa tradition, and we have no desire to make that story come alive. A focus on the Advent of Jesus is more productive and makes the season more meaningful.

Sign which says "in Christ alone my hope is found": 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash
Without Christ, we have no Hope and no reason for Joy

Christmas pageants

Whether it is a full stage production or just carols being sung at home, there is always some performance of the Christmas story. It is just who we are as a family. Singing, playing instruments, acting, directing… God gave us many means of expression to use for His glory and opportunities abound at Christmastime.

Christmas Eve services

We have spent many Christmas Eves at church. Sometimes the pageants mentioned above took place the day before Christmas. Other times, we went to worship and learn. And there have also been years where we stayed home and did our own service. This year, we will be home. I look forward to singing and praying together and having my husband share from God’s Word. I was hoping to go caroling as well, but I think there is heavy rain in the forecast. We shall see!

The reading of Luke 2 on Christmas morning

Luke 2:1-21 contains the Christmas story. We usually read to the end of the chapter, which takes us approximately 12 years into Jesus’ life. It is our way of keeping Christ in CHRISTmas, even while we are opening gifts, eating our favorite quiche, and doing the things which might tend to distract us from our true focus on Christmas morning.

Luke 2: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Luke 2 has been repeated in our Christmas traditions so often, many of us can practically recite it by heart.

Birthday cake for Jesus/Singing Happy Birthday

We bake a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Day. We put candles on it and sing Happy Birthday to Him. I’ll be honest – sometimes we have so many desserts around that baking a cake seems like a crazy idea. But we are celebrating the birth of our Savior and His birthday cake is a tangible reminder. The other sweets can be put in the freezer for another time.

More Away in a Manger and less Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

We love Christmas music! My husband gets tired of it and will not let us play it all year ’round, or we definitely would. Even so, we must be intentional about singing more “Away in a Manger” and “O Come Let Us Adore Him” and less “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Baby”.

O Come Let Us Adore Him Signboard: 9 Traditions Which have Characterized Our Christian Christmas
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Let us focus our adoration on One who is worthy

I googled Christmas Carols and noticed that half of what came up was called “Christmas Songs” or “Christmas Classics”. Those largely leave Jesus out. The search results which were called “Christmas Carols” were mostly about Jesus. But I thought it was telling that both came up equally when I requested carols. The line has gotten very blurred.


So there we have 9 traditions which have characterized our Christian Christmas. I’d love to hear from you. If you celebrate a Christian Christmas, what traditions help you to keep Jesus in the center? If you do not celebrate a Christian Christmas, I’d enjoy hearing one of your traditions and the meaning behind it.

Thank you so much for being here, for reading, and for celebrating this most wonderful season with me. I adore the gift of your friendship and appreciate you so much! Merry Christmas!

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Conversations Devotions

SuperPower Sunday: Wisdom

Welcome to Superpower Sunday!

This week’s Super-Character skill is Wisdom:

Seeing and responding to life situations from God’s frame of reference.

Character Bookshelf Series, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Proverbs 9:10

Please Share! In the comments section below, let us know what you learned and tell your success stories from the last week of practicing truthfulness. Also, we’d love to read your ideas of how we might exercise wisdom between now and next Superpower Sunday!

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Reflections

Two Lessons on First Impressions Too Delightful Not to Share

When you think of making a good first impression, do your thoughts turn to how you can be attractive to someone you meet for the first time? I googled “first impressions” and what I found was mostly advice on how to make others like you immediately. The emphasis is on you. You make the impression on someone else.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Will Rogers

But what about the other side of it? What about the impressions you first make of other people? Is the responsibility to get it right, to think well of someone, on you or on them? I hadn’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this post.

In full disclosure, this was intended to be a ‘Recipe and a Story’ post. When I mapped it out, I realized it was too long. So, this will be a two-part deal. Here in Part 1, I want to tell you the story. On Friday, I will post the recipe, which – spoiler alert – is for a mouth-watering, crust-less quiche. You won’t want to miss it! If you don’t already subscribe to the Back Porch, now would be the perfect time to do so.

Lesson One

I had done it – I had stepped out of my comfort zone and volunteered to help with an event. As a young, twenty-something year-old, I was new to the large church and acquainted with only a few people. To sign up and attend a meeting with unfamiliar faces was brave for me. I encountered a group of people much like me. We were all a bit awkward, and I was feeling good about it.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

And then Brooke breezed in. Her personality immediately filled the room. Her smile was huge, and her confidence almost knocked me over. Literally. I turned to see the face that went along with the infectious laughter and tripped over the leg of my chair. I sat down hard. She was beautiful. She was graciously greeting and hugging each of the people with whom I’d just clumsily shaken hands. She put me ill at ease.

I made a first impression of her based on other people I’d known with large personalities. I was used to getting bowled over by them. I assumed I was going to dislike myself around her. I expected to spend much of my time trying to avoid her. But I was wrong. And I learned the first of two lessons on first impressions which would stick with me because of her.

First impressions do not always give people the space to be unique.

Fast forward several months. I got to know Brooke well. She was nothing like the others to whom I’d compared her when we first met. She was inclusive and kind. I adored her. I am, by nature, a co-pilot. I prefer not to be in charge, but I will work really hard to assist whoever is willing to fly the plane. Brooke, with her commanding presence and fun reputation, was the perfect leader for me to follow.

“New friends are like new adventures. You never know what lessons they will teach you.”

Unknown

We teamed up officially to lead a small group of women for a semester and that experience cemented our lifelong friendship. It has been a couple of decades, but just this morning, when I saw her big smile on social media, it made me happy. I have a deep respect and appreciation for her. It is a notably different feeling than I had upon my first impression.

Lesson Two

One morning, the group which Brooke and I led was tasked with providing breakfast for all the small groups of women in the ministry of which we were a part. Brooke pulled me aside and showed me the quiche she’d brought. It was still a bit runny, and she asked if I thought it would benefit from more time in the oven. Thankfully, the church had a full kitchen at our disposal, so I agreed with her idea to cook it longer.

My first impression was that the quiche didn’t appeal to me, and I would avoid it when my turn came for the buffet line. There were plenty of choices and I filled my plate with other things, even though the extra baking time seemed to have caused the eggs to set nicely.

I’m sure my breakfast was good. It was nothing memorable, and I cannot tell you what I ate. But several women around me raved about one dish. Brooke’s quiche. By the time I realized I was missing out on something spectacular, it was gone. My first impression cost me.

“Realize the value of putting down your first impression quickly.”

Charles Webster Hawthorne

The quiche recipe ended up in a cookbook, which our ministry put out as a fundraiser. It became a staple at potlucks and buffet tables for as long as I attended that church. I made it often at home too. Even though it contained spinach, I never had to ask any of my kids twice to eat it. That made it a winner in my book!

My first impression was that the recipe was one to avoid. It didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t think I would enjoy it. I made the same mistake with the quiche as I’d made with Brooke. And I learned my second lesson.

First impressions are at a disadvantage because they do not know what finishing touches are yet to come.

My first impression of the quiche was premature. It wasn’t finished yet. It was not a new concept to me. As a kid, I had a notebook, the cover of which featured the outline of a girl with some tools at her feet. The caption read:

Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.

These two lessons on first impressions were too delightful not to share. The reason they turned delightful was because I was given the chance for reconsideration. But how many times have I lost out because I made first impressions and judged either according to past experiences or without considering the possibilities of the finished product?

The lessons were a gracious gift from God. The friendship with Brooke is something I cherish. And the quiche is simply outstanding. (I can’t wait to share the recipe with you!)

To be honest, there is nothing Brooke could have – or should have – done differently to sweeten my first impression of her. The impression I made was my responsibility. Same with the quiche. In both cases, I made a judgement based on my perception of how things were. And I was wrong.

Orange flowers with a blue background: Two Lessons on First Impressions Too Delightful Not to Share
Photo by Dzenina Lukac on Pexels.com
We don’t want to miss out on something spectacular because we’re blinded by our first impressions.

People obsess about making a good first impression on others. They fuss over their appearance and their manners and such. I want to suggest that we pay as much attention to the first impressions we make of others.

And hopefully the two lessons I have learned are encouraging to you. They prove that a first impression which has gone awry does not have to be the last impression. Isn’t that delightful? We may not get a second chance to make a first impression, but we can look for our first chance to make a second impression.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.”

Daniel Handler

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6
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Conversations Devotions

SuperPower Sunday: Truthfulness

Welcome to Superpower Sunday!

This week’s Super-Character skill is Truthfulness:

Earning future trust by accurately reporting past facts.

Character Bookshelf Series, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Ephesians 4:25

Please Share! In the comments section below, let us know what you learned and tell your success stories from the last week of practicing thoroughness. Also, we’d love to read your ideas of how we might exercise truthfulness between now and next Superpower Sunday!

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Reflections

An Illusion of Joy or an Infusion of Joy? Which are You in Line to Receive? Part 2

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

Shauna Niequist

An Illusion of Joy or an Infusion of Joy? Which are You in Line to Receive?

Does the above quote resonate with you the way it does me? It makes me want to break out into applause. I also want to break down and cry. I haven’t lived life this way. In my defense, some restraint and responsibility is respectable. But when I think of all that God has given and the many opportunities I’ve had to enjoy and explore and appreciate it, I know I’ve missed out. I’ve fallen for illusions of joy at the expense of the real thing.

The illusion of joy

Have you been down that path too? Norman Rockwell paintings, Hallmark movies, and holiday commercials would lead us to believe that if we could just recreate the experiences they portray, we’d find joy. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post, I encourage you to do so. In it, I explained where I have gone awry and tried to help you see through the illusion where I couldn’t for so long.

The illusion of joy is mesmerizing. It draws us in and doesn’t reveal itself as false until we’re deeply invested. Here, in Part 2, I will explain how I’ve learned to experience the infusion of joy. My prayer for us is that we get it right this year!

An infusion of joy

Joy comes from within. People exude it. Anyone might glimpse joy, but to have it consistently, we need Jesus. Joy is one of the gifts promised to those who follow Him. In fact, we’re told to look for joy as an identifier of who His people are. An infusion of joy is automatic if we’re connected to the true source of it.

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”

Psalm 126:2
Candle holders which spell out J.O.Y.: An Illusion of Joy or an Infusion of Joy? Which are You in Line to Receive?
Photo by David Orsborne on Pexels.com
Joy comes from within

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness”

Galatians 5:22 (emphasis mine)

The thing is, when joy comes from within, from the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts, the only way to stop its flow is to disconnect from Him. Sometimes we wonder how we can know God’s will for us, and friend, this is one way.

When the resources of the Spirit are suddenly out of reach, we know we have stepped out of line. Things cannot steal our joy, but if they are wrong pursuits, our choice to strive towards them will. Thankfully, repentance realigns our connection.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

Psalm 51:12

The world advertises joy but can never give it. The best we can get, outside of Jesus, is happiness. But it is fleeting and dependent on circumstances that are as fickle as we are. Happiness is a cheap knock-off of joy.

“Joy wells up and moves you from within, as present as the air.

Happiness happens to you from external stimulus, it comes and goes like the weather.”

LeAura Alderson

The world would have us go all-in for a chance to receive an illusion of joy. But Jesus offers a free infusion and He’s already gone all-in to give it to us. Knowing that, we shouldn’t be susceptible to the trappings of this world.

Lighted letters spelling Joy: An Illusion of Joy or an Infusion of Joy? Which are You in Line to Receive?
Photo by Natasha Fernandez on Pexels.com
True joy always lights up a room!

“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

Psalm 19:8

The joy Jesus gives will illuminate and infuse everything we do. Wouldn’t it be best to spend our time and effort on the preservation of our connection with Him? That way, His joy will be in abundant supply in, through, and bubbling right out of us!

“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”

Russell M. Nelson

Let’s be about the infusion of joy! Let’s encourage each other, and ourselves, to follow Jesus with abandon and to rest in His perfection. He offers everything we need. He has everything we wish to give.

Of course, we want to honor the people we love as well. If there are relatives who want certain traditions followed a specific way, maybe they can pick up the slack on the piece that is important to them.

Jesus is the reason for the season. And if we don’t have time to seek and savor Him in it, what are we even doing?

I would love to see people proudly posting photos of the stresses they chose to avoid in order to enable the infusion of joy. What would that look like for you? Christmas dinner on paper plates to reduce clean-up time? A tree only decorated from the middle up, above the reach of curious little hands? What could you do differently to make more time for joyful infusion?

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

I realize there are people who truly find happiness in every scrap of perfection. If that is you, I see you. I respect and appreciate the way God made you. I am not trying to take anything away from you. But can I ask a favor? Please don’t place your high standards on someone whose joy is diminished by trying to live up to them. We are each gifted in different ways!

“Joy is always in process. It’s under construction. It is in constant approach, alive and well in the doing of what we’re fashioned to do.”

Matthew McConaughey

Which are you in line to receive?

Now is the time. Are you ready to say goodbye to the illusion of joy? Are you committed to the infusion of real joy instead?

Painted canvas says "Choose Joy": An Illusion of Joy or an Infusion of Joy? Which are You in Line to Receive?
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com
I choose to infuse JOY

I have found some fun ways work less and laugh more in the holiday season. I will share them in some upcoming posts on this blog. If you’re interested, make sure to subscribe and follow along.

“If we can just let go and trust that things will work out the way they’re supposed to, without trying to control the outcome, then we can begin to enjoy the moment more fully. The joy of the freedom it brings becomes more pleasurable than the experience itself.”

Goldie Hawn

Traditions are good. They are even important. But they shouldn’t be followed simply because they always have been. Our efforts should be put into the most meaningful pursuits. And if we want an infusion of joy this holiday season, we must cultivate our relationships with Jesus. That is how we tap into joy.

There will be a million other draws on our time, but without Jesus, the best we can find is an illusion of joy. Which are you in line to receive? Good news, it is never too late to switch lines!

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. “

John 15:10, 11 (emphasis mine)
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Conversations Devotions

SuperPower Sunday: Thoroughness

Welcome to Superpower Sunday!

This week’s Super-Character skill is Thoroughness:

Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected.

Character Bookshelf Series, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”

Proverbs 18:15

Please Share! In the comments section below, let us know what you learned and tell your success stories from the last week of practicing sincerity. Also, we’d love to read your ideas of how we might exercise thoroughness between now and next Superpower Sunday!