Simply Redeeming Christmas
by Michelle Ule
As a military family, we have celebrated Christmas all over the world.
We’ve also suffered through many dismal Christmases touched by death.
To cope with the emotional upheaval, I’ve long pondered how to redeem the best parts of Christmas.
Because at its heart, isn’t Christmas really about birth and good news?
So how to redeem it?
I decided to focus on what’s important to the people I love.
For one little girl, the joy of baking Christmas cookies with friends satisfied her heart.
Even in the midst of juggling ICU calls, I could do that.
We’ll celebrate our Christmas cookie baking party for the sixteenth year this December. My daughter and her friends are adults now, but an evening spent together decorating cookies fills a need I never imagined.
Fifteen young adults joined us last year—and everyone took home two dozen cookies.
What About That Tree?
A nine-year-old fire survivor told me the tree signifies Christmas to her—whether beautifully decorated or not.
The pine scent wafting through the living room helps set the mood.
My ornaments do not match, but whether homemade or travel souvenirs, they remind us of our family’s experiences together.
I let my grandchildren decorate the tree, no matter the haphazard placement.
What a pleasure to watch them hang ornaments their parents made!
The Church Christmas Pageant
Even with our children grown, we attend our church’s Sunday school Christmas pageant.
There’s something so sweet about watching angels trying to control their halos and young shepherds herding sibling sheep!
Hearing the words from Luke read by a child recalls the Jesus whose birth we celebrate.
Singing “Happy Birthday, Jesus,” as everyone blows out the candle on the cake always makes us laugh.
It’s simple, chaotic, loving and full of laughter—which is how I think Jesus often responds to me!
Since I rarely have gift boxes, I’ve always used whatever cardboard box I can find.
My children have peeled off the beautiful wrapping paper to find a cereal box sheltering art materials.
Our second son never forgets the year he unwrapped a case of soft drinks only to discover socks inside.
They’re almost disappointed if they find the gifts in the original containers!
Since the element of surprise is the best part of a gift—why not provide it with your wrapping?
Simple is better for me, especially since the cat always wants to rip off the bows anyway.
Of course, we love presents!
I particularly like to give socks and books. How about you?
Limiting the number helps—particularly when your family is as large as ours.
I prefer to choose a simple gift that makes recipients laugh—because isn’t provoking joy the heart of giving?
Christmas Cards and Letters
Cards and letters are my treats every year—whether writing the letter or receiving the mail.
With our friends scattered around the globe, it’s a personal way for me to keep in touch.
I actually love friends’ stories about their wonderful children.
We celebrate Christmas every year with the same foods.
Christmas Eve is the traditional Slovenian family meal—Slovenian sausage, potatoes, carrots, French bread, potica and salad.
We always have plenty of cookies!
Sharing the preparation, making the meal as simple as possible (while allowing for family of origin flourishes from the in-laws) makes the day easier on everyone.
With a holiday name like Ule, we always celebrate with several versions of a “Yule log.”
Learning to make it is a rite of passage for my children!
Jesus is the reason for the season, and so I make an effort to focus on Him amidst the craziness.
Most years, I get the Advent candles lit at least twice during the season.
We attend all the church services, with Christmas Eve our favorite.
As singers in the church choir, we learn a Christmas Cantata most years.
The point of it all, though, is to listen to those great Christmas hymns and reflect on what they mean.
God’s greatest gift of all was simple: a baby wrapped in plain swaddling clothes, laid amid the sweet-smelling straw, surrounded by his family.
Angels sang hymns of praise, friends gathered, and they rejoiced together over a newborn king.
All they lacked were cookies or a Yule log.
Michelle Ule is the bestselling author of a variety of books and the recent coming-of-age novel, A Poppy in Remembrance. Michelle lives in Northern California and blogs regularly at www.michelleule.com.
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