December 4, 2012


When we married, my husband suggested we have a themed Christmas tree. He liked silver and blues, maybe round globes and icicles.

I quickly disabused him of that notion.

Decorating the Christmas tree was a rich tradition in our house, with each ornament telling a story. There’s the clay candy cane I made for my dad when I was 8. The styrofoam Christmas shapes my parents hung on their tree in Germany, when stationed there during the Vietnam War. We have my pacifier covered in red felt, and the delicate glass balls from my great-grandmother’s tree.

I wanted to pass along this tradition to our children. By the steely look in my eyes, my husband knew I could not be dissuaded.

And so for 15 years, the night of Christmas tree decorating has become a living scrapbook, each ornament a snapshot of significant life moments. As our children have grown, we have tried to imbue in them the same love and joy of decorating the tree, slowly enough to tell stories about each ornament.

They mostly moan and groan, anxious to throw up the ornaments, turn on the lights and return to the TV. Until this year.

Finally, after years of being part of the tradition, they owned it. Our son scoffed at the suggestion of us decorating the tree in shifts, to accommodate my husband’s night meetings. We do this together, he said. We always do.

And my daughter picked up ornament after ornament and turned to me. Tell me the story, momma. Tell me why this matters.

When we stepped back from the tree, we saw a hodgepodge of ornaments. Daddy’s Cub Scout made 35 years ago out of wooden clothes pin. Paper reindeers with the antlers traced from the tiny hands of our children at age 2. The snow globe from Niagara Falls and the Mickey Mouse Santa from our first trip to Disney.

When we stepped back, we saw that a tradition had finally taken root, that our stories were shaping a narrative of family and love and life.

I think of our traditions in our churches, especially in this season. We have Christmas pageants and hanging of the greens, Lessons and Carols and Advent wreath crafts. Are we deliberate about inviting people into these traditions? Year after year? Do we seek out new people sitting on the edges and invite them into the circle, explaining the history and sharing the stories?
Are we patient enough to give people the time to make our traditions part of their lives?

Tell me the story. Tell me why this matters.