Growing up, we almost always lived far from family which meant we did a lot of traveling on Thanksgiving. Actually, we traveled even when we didn’t have to, sometimes to a totally unsentimental location, like the beach, where we’d eat dinner out and giggle about the fact that the only turkey on the table was in the form of a burger. I know that sounds borderline sacrilege to some people but I loved it. We enjoyed out time together as a family which, if you ask me, is more important than turkey and green bean casserole, neither of which I like anyway.
Christmas is a huge deal with my family, and the season always started the minute we pushed back from whatever table we’d eaten whatever form of Thanksgiving dinner we’d had that year. (I feel like my mom is probably going “We had a lot of normal Thanksgivings!” And she’s right.) We’d finish the meal and the stash of Christmas music would suddenly appear. And we’d listen non-stop for the next season.
We have a lot of family traditions during this season: a Secret Santa gift exchange, wearing Santa hats for every meal, shopping for mom’s stocking with Dad, and, one that caught Duff off-guard, eating pizza on Christmas Eve (to name a few). Again, I feel the need to say we are not opposed to more traditional holiday meals.
The story behind the pizza is this: One year, I think it was the one after my brother and sister (twins, for the record) were born in November, making them about 7 weeks old, my mom decided we were going to start a bunch of new Christmas traditions. As anyone who’s had even one 7 week old knows, that’s crazy talk, and she had two. I was 5, and I don’t remember anything really, but by the time dinner on Christmas Eve rolled around, mom was apparently pretty busted and Dad made the executive decision that we were ordering pizza for dinner. And we’ve ordered pizza for dinner on Christmas Eve ever since.
Growing up, it was fun and easy and felt so celebratory as we came in from church, always starving, and opened up a couple of boxes of piping hot pizza. So, back then it was fun and exciting, but now that I’ve had a 7 week old at Christmas, I see the beauty and the grace in it. The reaching for something that doesn’t really matter and the settling in on what actually does.
I doubt that’s what was going through their heads when they placed the order 26 years ago. There was probably some cussing or crying, at least there would have been if it was my story, and realizing that makes it even better. She/they wanted to start some new traditions that year, and they did, but they modeled other things well, too. Like knowing when to give it up and order take-out.
Duff and I have been married for 5 years, but only one of them was pre-kids. Liv was 6 weeks old at her first Christmas, just over a year at the next one, then she was two and I was pregnant, then she was three and Eliza was 6 months old. That was a great year. Last year, we moved two days after Christmas, so things were just weird. It was just us, with a little fake Charlie Brown Christmas tree in one corner, and stacks of moving boxes in another. Opening presents took about 15 minutes and then we did some more packing. It was good and necessary. But not flashy. I was glad we had the move to look forward to.
After growing up in a home where Christmas was, for me at least, the highlight of the year, I’ve realized that I just keep waiting for it to really happen. That it isn’t just that last year felt a little lacking, it’s been most of the adult years. I’m having a hard time transitioning to Christmas with our family. How can I make it fun and fulfilling and exhausting? How can I make it feel right? Maybe we need to start some traditions…
And then I go back to that pizza story. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s a reminder to me to be where we are, to stop inadvertently seeing these years our kids won’t really remember as filler years, as the ones before the good stuff.
The Bible says that when two people get married, they’re to “leave and cleave” – so just by getting married you form your own family (kids don’t make you a family, by the way), and you have to start separating from yours. My parents have made this so easy on me. Soon after we got married, my dad made a point to say, “Kristi, just so you know, we recognize that you and Duff are your own family now. When it comes to holidays, know that we will be thrilled with any time you choose to spend with us. But we aren’t putting expectations on you. You make decisions for your family and we look forward to being part of that when we can.”
How cool is that?
So, of course it’s ironic that I’m sort of wrestling with that this year, where we’ll be spending Christmas with just our little family again. We’ll see Duff’s parents later this week to do Christmas with them and my sister was sent back down south after Thanksgiving with her car loaded up like Santa’s Sleigh (it’s even red) with presents from my family, but we won’t see my parents or younger sister until a few weeks later when Piper’s born. Which is very practical and totally makes sense. We won’t see my brother at all.
I keep catching myself thinking things like, “Okay, one more weird year and then it’ll get good. It’ll fall into place. Liv will be older, Eliza will be older, Piper will be not a baby, that’s when we’ll really get going.”
So despite the fact that I’m spending a lot of time telling my kids that Christmas is more about Jesus than it is about presents, I’m acting and feeling like it’s more about the experience than it is about Jesus.
I read a blog post by a friend I met at the Influence Conference that helped this click for me. I’m longing for “Jesus plus ___” this year. Jesus plus tradition and experience and maybe even Jesus plus a freaking pepperoni pizza. Reading her post made me realize that so far, Jesus isn’t enough for me at Christmas.
Except that he is. O, Holy Night, if he isn’t enough, I’m missing something. I’m off-track. He is enough.
So I’m having to fall down and go back to the basics of this season. The trees and the activities and the songs and traditions, they’re wonderful. But they’re not ultimate.
I saw this quote from Tim Keller the other day and tried to inhale it over and over again.
Jesus says no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, take hold of me, rest in me. All you need is need. All you need is nothing.
So that’s what I’m trying to go after. Less of the leaning forward to times when the experience will meet my expectations, more of the Jesus. At the end of Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones, it says, “The one who made us has come to live with us!”
Pizza or no pizza, that is what I need.