Since I've been called to serve as the Relief Society second counselor in my ward, I've been given the privilege to organize activities which help unite our sisters through love and service.
This particular activity which I planned was about gathering together and sharing the traditions we celebrate each year around the holidays. For many people traditions are the emotional and spiritual glue that cements their families together. Traditions don't have be extravagant or take too much advanced planning (although those ones are fun, too!), but can be simple and evolve naturally over time. Traditions build unity, security, warmth and strengthen bonds between family members. Traditions can be silly or fun and traditions can be spiritual and help us to grow closer to Christ. Although, I think that any tradition designed to bring families closer together draws us closer to our Savior.
I've always loved traditions and love that my little family already has so many! Some of my fondest memories from childhood were waking up Christmas morning to open stockings with my brothers and sister. After opening stockings we'd play with our things while suspensefully waiting for my dad to wake up so we could open the rest of the gifts. We'd gather around the tree as a family and take time to watch each person open their gifts--gifts given from the hearts of other family members. In true Stokes' traditional fashion there was a specific order to our present opening, which is something I've passed on to our family. Basically you start with the youngest family member who picks out a gift from under the tree either for himself or someone else and then it keeps going upwards until it gets to the oldest family member. Then start over again until all the presents are opened. This can take a long time depending on how many presents are under the tree, but it's worth it to take the time to watch each gift opened and enjoyed, pausing to reflect on the meaning and love conveyed from the giver as well as the appreciation from the receiver.
I love that as a married couple we can take our favorite family traditions and combine them and add on to them. I think it's great that both Micah and I grew up with parents that taught us Santa Claus wasnt real. We always knew it was our parents sneaking around the tree on Christmas Eve. Therefore, we also tell our children, as soon as they are old enough, that Santa is a fun, fictional character that people like to pretend and celebrate, but we've chosen not to. Our emphasis is on our Savior Jesus Christ and the magic, beauty, hope, healing, joy, and awesomeness He brought into the world when He was born. We are celebrating His birthday and this is the reason for our many traditions and the spirit we feel at Christmas-time. Santa Claus is just a fun by-product!
*Correction-Micah's family actually did do Santa Claus make-believe stuff when he was growing up! For some reason I thought otherwise probably because he is so against it now, I figured he grew up thinking that way.
The other day I sat down with our children to make a list of all the permanent Christmas traditions we've established over the years and was surprised by how many we've either continued or acquired!
Jackson Family yearly Christmas Traditions:
* Put up a REAL Pine tree in our home (sometimes we go chop one down in the mountains but this time we didn't)
*Decorate our tree together while listening to Christmas music
*Count-down paper-rings to Christmas day
*Decorate the house with colorful Christmas lights and nativities
*Mom's homemade stockings hung up at the fireplace
*Make home-made goodies for neighbors and friends
*Watch the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon and The Grinch and Mr. Kreuger's Christmas movie.
*Check out favorite Christmas books from the library and read them all month long.
*Walk around the St. George Temple for Christmas lights and nativity.
*Help with and attend our church Christmas party
*Play the Stokes' Christmas Card Game
*Christmas Eve: Sing Christmas hymns, light candles and read the story of Christ's birth in Luke.
*Kids sleep in the living room
*Micah and I fill stockings together
*Christmas morning: homemade cinnamon rolls and chocolate milk
*Open stockings and gifts
*Big Turkey dinner for lunch-Micah cooks the turkey
At our Relief Society activity we went around and shared many of the traditions we have in our homes. It was really neat to hear how each family is unique in how they celebrate Christmas with all their various traditions! There were so many fun, spiritually uplifting, and wonderful traditions, I wish I could remember all of them. I will attempt to write down the ones that I can:
*The 24 days to Christmas countdown: Several sisters shared that the 24 days before Christmas they sit down with their families and read a touching, funny, or inspiring Christmas-related story each day. There is also a song and scripture to go with the story.
*Leaving cookies and milk for "Santa" and carrots for the reindeer.
*Green pancakes with sliced strawberries and whipped cream for breakfast on Christmas morning.
*Making Gingerbread houses
*Opening new pajamas on Christmas Eve then watching a movie together.
*Having the children act out the story of Christ's birth from the Bible. One sister said her grandfather has the scriptures memorized and the kids act it out while he recites it.
*A Christmas Eve talent show
*Christmas Eve service: Caroling and bringing goodies to widows and the elderly.
*Taking a special vacation each year at Christmastime, instead of gifts.
*Giving 3 gifts per family member to open Christmas morning which represent Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh...ie. a gift they really value like a toy or game, a spiritual gift like a new set of scriptures or Temple bag and a gift they need like socks or a new coat.
*Drawing names in large families to choose who you focus on-- as in doing services for that person and giving a gift.
*Big family dinners on Christmas Day
|Some traditional Christmas goodies like fruit cake, cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies, and breads.|
I know Christmas isn't joyful for everyone. In fact, for many people it is sad and depressing and a reminder of lost loved ones, broken families, and life gone disappointingly wrong. However, I also know that the purpose of Christmas and therefore Christ is to bring hope, healing, connectedness, and joy to our lives. If nothing else at this season, I pray that people will feel this spirit in their hearts, despite all the chaos and hoopla that comes with the season. The true center of Christmas is Christ and if we look hard enough we can find Him in just about anything--even Santa Claus.
I am really grateful I get to serve in the RS presidency. The women I get to work with are phenomenal people and I feel like God has planted these amazing women in my life as role models, examples, and mother-mentors. I look up to their strength and their dedication to their families. I look up to their ability to center, root, and cement their lives and families in the gospel while also laughing and enjoying life along the way. I am grateful for their examples in overcoming challenges and finding hope in Christ through all the ups and downs of life. I feel very blessed this Christmas season and am most humbly grateful for my Savior for making everything good in my life, possible.