The holidays - Christmas time in particular - are usually associated with a long list of family traditions. Getting together with family, gift giving, and baking cookies and pies all month long are probably at the top of everyone’s list. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my family’s traditions also included decorating the tree we cut down from our front yard and, if we’re lucky, going sledding in the freshly fallen snow.
This past Christmas was the first time I have been away from extended family and the place I called home for the first 22 years of my life. My parents and my brother were able to come to San Diego to celebrate Christmas with me here. It felt a bit odd as we walked around the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Christmas Eve in 80 degree weather. Definitely not one of our normal Christmas traditions. The day after Christmas, two friends from my home church in Washington joined us in San Diego and we all headed into Mexico to build a house.
That week as we worked side by side, building Tomasa and her daughters a home with a floor that wasn’t made of dirt and a roof that wouldn’t leak, I couldn’t help but think of what Christmas was really all about. God gave us the greatest gift of all in the form of a baby sent to save us. The least we can do is maybe break tradition every once in a while; Christmas doesn’t always have to be spent surrounded by our comfortably familiar traditions. Christmas will still be Christmas even if we spend it camping out in the uncomfortable cold in an unfamiliar country while building a house alongside a family who really needs it.
I’ve been a part of many key ceremonies and house dedications over the years. There’s nothing quite like the tears of joy and expressions of gratitude a family shows when we hand over the keys to their new home. Maybe it was the emotion of the moment or maybe it was just the fact that it was Christmas time and I was thinking about God’s gift to us, I don’t know, but this particular house dedication felt like the greatest gift I’ve ever given.
As we left Mexico on New Year’s Eve, we were surprised to see snow on the hills in Tijuana. The feeling that I had the day before when we were dedicating the house came back even stronger as I realized just how important it was for Tomasa and her daughters to have a house with four solid walls and a roof over their heads, especially during the winter. Not that snow is a normal occurrence for Tijuana (we drove past a long line of cars that had pulled over on the freeway with people getting out to take pictures of the hillsides), but it was a comforting feeling knowing that Tomasa’s family had a warm and dry place to sleep that night.
As I was writing this blog, I was listening to Christmas music to get in the spirit. The song “That’s Christmas to Me” by Pentatonix came on and I stopped for a moment to just listen to the lyrics:
“The fireplace is burning bright, shining all on me
I see the presents underneath the good old Christmas tree…
I see the children play outside, like angels in the snow
While mom and daddy share a kiss under the mistletoe…
As I fall asleep to lullabies, the morning’s coming soon
The only gift I’ll ever need is the joy of family…
Oh, why? ‘Cause that’s Christmas to me.”
We all have our own traditions and notions about what Christmas should be. Snow on the ground, presents under the tree, family gathered together, et cetera. But did you ever stop to think that maybe Christmas will still be Christmas even if you decide to do something out of the ordinary? Who knows, maybe you’ll stumble on to a new family tradition.
“And we’ll cherish all these simple things wherever we may be
Oh, why? ‘Cause that’s Christmas to me…”