Do you struggle with some of the traditions, or lack thereof, at your church? If so, my best words of wisdom are to embrace what is meaningful to you while doing your best to experience and understand the traditions of others. Without realizing it, I came into our marriage with a lot of traditions – many which my husband had never experienced – let alone my new church family!

My heritage came from a long line of Swedish ancestors. On one side of the family, I am the granddaughter of immigrants and from the other side - a great granddaughter. Every Christmas we had a traditional smorgasbord meal with many imported foods and Swedish dishes. We danced around the Christmas tree – at least in my early years. We learned Swedish Christmas carols. We enjoyed Lucia celebrations, and we even attended some Christmas services that were spoken in Swedish. I’m a Swede, and that’s what we do.

Reality hit once I got married and moved away from a community that had a large Swedish population. Over time, it was hard to keep my enthusiasm over these traditions except when I visited my parents. I did keep a bit of the Swedish heritage alive for my children by putting up traditional Swedish decorations each year, and a few special cookie recipes also made it to the holiday table. My childhood traditions and memories remain dear to my heart, but I decided long ago that many of those traditions weren’t what really made Christmas special anyway.

The challenge in the pastorate is that often both the pastor and his wife are from a different area of the country than where they serve. Often, we don’t think about how our cultural backgrounds may actually differ from those in our church family. Add cultural differences with the many things that can crowd the church calendar and you will have some real challenges on your hands. Then, when Christmas Day lands on a Sunday, the importance of flexibility and creativity will be key as you decide when and where your family will celebrate Christmas together.

Because our closest family members were either hundreds or thousands of miles away, we came up with some simple Christmas traditions that weren’t dependent on church schedules or specific calendar dates. In fact, our girls joke that we only had one true Christmas tradition and that involved making a special Swedish cookie we all love. Even now, the youngest family member – our three year old grandson - will eat them by the fist-full if we don’t keep an eye on him!

The other traditions that we did incorporate into our family celebration each year were pretty simple, but they brought a sense of anticipation and celebration into our home. Plus, with each of these traditions we had the freedom to incorporate them into our own timeline. Perhaps you have enjoyed something similar with your family or have memories of one of these traditions from your childhood.

  • We went to the woods, found a tree together, cut it down, dragged it out and got a few pictures too. (This outing wasn’t complete unless we stopped for hot chocolate and a snack on the way home!)
  • “Daddy” got the tree secured in the stand and the girls and I got the lights on and decorated it.
  • Lights went up outside our house, and we enjoyed searching for Christmas lights when traveling about.
  • We decorated the house. One year the girls even had their own ‘charlie brown’ trees in their bedrooms!
  • We shared gifts with our neighbors and sent out an annual Christmas card or letter.
  • We decorated with and enjoyed a variety of Nativity sets through the years.
  • We designated a day to be our “Christmas Day.” Sometimes it was on the 25th, but often times not.
  • We traveled hundreds of miles to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and dear friends.
  • We shared gifts with each other as a family – either in our home or after hauling them half way across the country so grandma and grandpa could see the joy on the kid’s faces as they opened their gifts!
  • But, the most important tradition that I and my husband shared with our girls was to grab the teachable moments and share with them the ‘real meaning of Christmas.’

We all have traditions woven through our Christmas celebrations. Some you have had to be very intentional to create. Some will happen just naturally. Be careful not to get caught up in envying what others may choose to observe as holiday traditions. Embrace the moments you have to prepare for Christmas. Take time to worship the Savior and to share the message of Hope we can find in Him.

Noel, Noel. Born is the King of Israel!

Now, that’s a tradition I can enjoy all year long!


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