My mother-in-law has always loved Christmas and all the traditions that surround it. From what I have been told by my husband, she came by this naturally, as her mother was the same way. I believe in a lot of ways this has also been passed down to Gary. You might be thinking, don’t most people enjoy the traditions of Christmas, including gift-giving, decorating, making cookies, and time with family? To a certain degree, this may be true, but I believe some people have a supercharged love for the season, and therefore, the traditions in their homes are celebrated to a greater extent.
This truth is evident at my mother-in-law’s house on Christmas morning as a multitude of gifts overflows the living room. It is even more evident by the quantity of holiday decorations that begin to fill her home starting in early December. The decorations include collections of Santas, angels, and Byers’ Choice dolls representing Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. A tree sits in the corner of their living room decorated with more angels and white lights.
Additional trees are set up in her family room and kitchen. Christmas artwork is placed on the walls. Pillows and throws in seasonal colors are arranged on couches and chairs. Holiday-themed plates and glasses are retrieved from the recesses of the dining hutch to await special meals. Decorations continue into the upstairs area, including the hall bathroom and guest room where we stay.
At my in-laws’ home, we brush our teeth next to a small Christmas tree and fall asleep under a Christmas-themed bedspread. My mother-in-law also has a collection of holiday attire and jewelry to enjoy as she counts down the days until December 25. I could go on for a few more paragraphs, but by now, you have an appreciation for her commitment to the season.
I grew up in a home where we loved celebrating and getting together with family, but the decorations at our house were simple and far from numerous. We had a tree and a small collection of various Christmas-themed tabletop decorations. We cuddled up with the same knitted afghan throughout the entire year, and our special meals were served on plain white china. One of my favorite decorations was our nativity scene. It was beautiful and old, having originally been used at our church. It was acquired by our family at a church fundraiser when the church no longer had a use for it. My father made a wooden stable to hold the figurines, and we added straw to it each year before setting up the scene. My mother had no problem with me playing with these breakable pieces, and I remember well my fascination with the baby Jesus.
My husband and I have settled into a holiday rhythm that lies somewhere between our childhood family homes. We admittedly have many more decorations than my parents’ home but far less than Gary’s. Like both sides, however, we emphasize family get-togethers and spending time with people we love. The decorations in our home have helped us create memories and traditions as we celebrate this very special time of the year.
I purchased the first nativity for our family soon after we were married. It has beautiful muted colors and a wooden stable. As a child, Tara was given the responsibility to set up this display each year. I enjoyed watching her carefully unwrap each piece from its protective layer of tissue paper and place it in the perfect location in the stable. She took her time until the scene in front of her matched the one she was seeing with her mind’s eye. Admittedly, I was thankful when each precious piece was unpacked and set in place with no casualties. Unlike my childhood home, in our house, playing with the nativity was not allowed.
When my parents were starting to downsize, they offered up their nativity to whomever in the family might want it. I could only dare to hope I would be able to receive this family heirloom. Yet thankfully, none of my siblings were interested. I excitedly headed home one day with an old shoebox of my father’s which contained these treasures. Now that both of my parents are gone, it is even more precious to me. And although my normal organizing tendencies would encourage me to store these nativity pieces in one of my many clear plastic boxes, my heart does not allow me to transfer them out of their home in my father’s shoe box except for their annual unveiling and display.
About three years ago, I saw a nativity scene created by an artist that was truly unique. The holy family was designed in a reverent way, but the other pieces were colorful and a bit whimsical. I immediately fell in love with it. With gift catalog in hand, I showed Gary and gave him a not-so-subtle hint that I might like to start collecting this new nativity. With Christmas fast approaching, I was hoping he could use some gift ideas. Since that time, we have collected most of the pieces, and this display has become the featured nativity in our home.
Although I am grateful for our newest nativity, my reasons for wanting it are not about acquiring another collection of holiday decorations. For our family, the most important thing about Christmas is reflecting on God’s love and His goodness towards us as we spend time with family and friends. Nativity scenes are such a tangible and beautiful picture of God’s love and His plan to create a family, His family, through the birth of His Son. It gives me so much joy to unpack these beautiful treasures each year and remember how blessed I am for what He did for me so that I can be a part of His family.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)
This is an excerpt from Joy All Around Us
Featured and In-Text Image Illustrated by Tara Suess