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Parent conversations: What if we can’t follow our Christmas traditions this year?

For better or worse, Christmas is filled with traditions. Some of these traditions help celebrate Jesus’ birth—the Christmas Eve candlelight service or the children’s Christmas service, for example. Others may be more worldly, but they still help unite a family. My father-in-law “forgot” his keys each Christmas Eve when my husband and his siblings were young, so he had to run back inside before the family left for worship. When they arrived home later, their gifts would be under the tree. I love that story because it was a tradition filled with love.

So . . . what happens this year? So many things are already different. It’s likely that your Christmas is going to look different too. Of course, you can still celebrate your Savior’s birth, but . . . how exactly? Read these two articles to help your family adjust its celebration.

— Nicole Balza


What if we can’t follow our Christmas traditions this year?

It was a strange Christmas Eve. A sad Christmas Eve. A disappointing Christmas Eve. But it also had the potential to be the best Christmas Eve ever.

I’m thinking of the first Christmas Eve my wife and I experienced as empty nesters. That night the nest felt especially empty. Our daughters were with their families, hours away from our home. We were alone.

When we arrived home after worship, there was no scurry to set out snacks in the living room. There was no daughter laughter. No hugs. No anticipation about the gifts under the tree. No celebration of the love my family shares. Absent was the joy and excitement that made Christmas Eve our “most wonderful time of the year.”

However, the night had the potential to help us create a new empty-nest tradition, one we could treasure for decades to come.

But we created nothing.

Rather than sitting together in the living room in the glow of the tree lights, Sharon and I sat in the television room bathed in big screen LED light. We opened no presents. We didn’t regale each other with cherished holiday memories.

We could have launched new Christmas Eve traditions. We could have opened albums with Christmas photos and celebrated the blessings God has given us in our children. We could have invited others who, like us, were without family. We could have taken couple-time with the Christmas story: reading it, talking about it, praying over it. We could have used Christmas Eve to sharpen our focus on Christ’s birth. We could have. But we didn’t.

We didn’t because we did not prepare for that evening. We didn’t use the days before to talk about our sense of loss or the options we could explore. We didn’t identify our new opportunities and plan ways to capture them.

Christmas 2020 has the potential to shatter your treasured holiday traditions.

Christmas 2020 has the potential to shatter your treasured holiday traditions. COVID-19 may threaten the ways we have celebrated Jesus’ birth in the past. The grief of death and divorce may destroy your Christmas customs. Job loss may package frustration, not presents, beneath your Christmas tree.

The solution? Learn from what Sharon and I should have done:

  • Choose to focus on how the baby born in Bethlehem guarantees that all things must work for our good. Pray with each other for the Spirit to help you trust that truth.
  • Make time to talk with your family about how this Christmas will be different.
  • Name and grieve over the family traditions you have lost. Be real with each other about how you will feel this Christmas.
  • Talk about how developing different family traditions is normal. For example, chances are the family traditions you and your spouse grew up with are different than those you and your children have developed.
  • Brainstorm ways to highlight the reason for the season in your celebrations. Bring a sharper focus on Jesus’ birth into your home.

Nothing can take away Christmas’ “good news of great joy” that “a Savior has been born.” So embrace your new normal. Waiting for you are other ways to make this the “most wonderful time of the year.”

James Aderman



Christmas is all about connection.
Jesus connected with humanity by taking on human flesh and living among us. He told stories to connect people to truth, and he reconnected sick people with health and healing. Ultimately, he connected us to God for all eternity. Sin separates, but Christ connects.

We celebrate that connection every Christmas by connecting with each other. We step into each other’s houses, shake off the snow, and give big, long hugs. We ooh and ahh at the tree, exchange gifts, laugh hard, and eat too many cookies. And we worship! We crowd into pews, sing loudly, and then sit quietly, letting Word and song wash over us together.

As I write this, we’re in a state of disconnection. Countries are locking down again, limiting gatherings, enforcing curfews, disconnecting people to stifle the virus. More locally, my neighbor is sick. I leave what she needs inside her door, but I don’t go in, because I have family members who need to be protected. She understands, but it’s heart wrenching.

Disconnection is unnatural, and forced disconnection feels like an abridgment of freedom. Part of me says, “Where’s the love?” and “You’re not the boss of me!” But the more mature part of me realizes that right now, temporary disconnection is a token of love.

Even if we’re temporarily disconnected due to COVID-19, we’re connected to each
other in Christ.

So what happens if we can’t connect physically with our families this Christmas? We’ll just have to connect in other ways. Here are a few to contemplate:

  • Facetime or Zoom. Set up the phone or tablet so Grandma and Grandpa can watch the gift opening and sing along with the hymns. (Do a test run ahead of time, so it all goes smoothly. And remember to talk loudly!)
  • Call and text. If Zoom is a bridge too far, you can still call and text throughout the day. Call to say thanks for the jeans. Put the phone on speaker and let Uncle Jeff read Luke 2 after supper. Text “I love you” before bed.
  • Share pictures all day long. Send both the idyllic shots (fresh-faced family in front of the tree) and the real-life shots (Dad’s weird sweater, little Sophie’s sobs because she didn’t get a pony).
  • Prepare the same dinner menu. Everybody make the Christmas kielbasa, Great-Grandma’s schaum torte, and Uncle Brad’s “Orange Jeromes.”
  • Follow a schedule. Though you’re at separate houses, follow the same plan. Worship at 9 (maybe you can even “attend” the same service virtually if you’re not able to be there in person), lunch at noon, gifts at 1 (with matching socks for everyone), walk at 2, Hallmark movie at 3 (with a movie bingo game).
  • Let Amazon and Etsy do the shipping. Shop online and have gifts delivered. Maybe this year’s wrapping paper is brown cardboard. Would that be so terrible for one year?
  • Send a few things yourself ahead of time: an Advent calendar, a photo collage of Christmases past, a batch of fudge, an essential oil so you’re all enjoying the same scent on Christmas. Yes, this takes a little planning and postage, but you’re not traveling or spending money on gas, so it’s not a difficult trade-off. (My first year in college, my mom sent me a fully decorated mini-Christmas tree. I owe her.)

Even if we’re temporarily disconnected due to COVID-19, we’re connected to each other in Christ. Those are not just words. Christ is here with us, right this second. And on Christmas, he’ll be sitting at each Christian’s dinner table as he always does, chuckling at the collapsed dessert, enjoying the out-of-tune piano.

I hope we can be physically together this Christmas, but if we can’t, we’ll be okay. We know that soon we’ll be connected again, and in Jesus we’re connected forever!

Laurie Gauger-Hested

Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 12
Issue: December 2020

Nicole Balza
Latest posts by Nicole Balza (see all)
James Aderman
Laurie Gauger-Hested
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