Ask someone, “What does Christmas mean to you?” and you will receive many answers. To some, it’s a sacred celebration of their Savior’s birth; to others, it’s about giving and receiving gifts; to yet another, it’s simply a break from the typical work or school routine; to a few, it’s a time of depression and sadness.
But ask anyone to give you three or four things consistently a part of their Christmas, and you will undoubtedly hear one word over and over: family.
Family is perhaps the most important part of Christmas in many people’s minds because when you strip away all of the surface things in our lives – hobbies, pastimes, activities – and even go beyond the more serious aspects of our lives – school, work, church – you get down to the most basic, most critical part of our lives. For most people, that is the family.
After our three children got married, our entire family would typically celebrate Christmas together, and Christmas was especially fun once they started having children. Over the years, our grandchildren have gotten married and had children. Now, with 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, and more on the way, our entire group has grown to around 50 family members. No one has a residence adequate for everybody to be together. We would have to rent a hotel!
Betty planned a special party for our great-grandchildren last year shortly before Christmas Day. Thirteen great-grandchildren and their parents came. One great-grandchild was ill, and his family didn’t get to attend. It was a warm Texas day, and the kids enjoyed playing outside in our yard. Betty and I had a wonderful time watching them interact. At Betty’s request, I dressed up like Santa Claus, and the kids loved it. There was such life and joy inside and outside our home. Nothing went exactly as planned, but it couldn’t have been more fun, with much laughter and even a few tears. Yes, the great-grandparents were physically worn-down by the time everyone left, but our hearts overflowed with indescribable joy.
Christmas gatherings like this bring joy, but sometimes they are accompanied by deep sadness. As with many families, we understand the sorrow of a loved one missing. Our youngest child, Robin, left us 11 Christmases ago after a battle with cancer. She loved Christmas so much that she would begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. She knew how to organize a party – and how she would have enjoyed every minute of the Christmas gathering with her grandchildren and their cousins.
While we still weep, we realize that most of those tears are tears of thankfulness and praise for God’s sustaining love, peace and comfort over the years. Robin fought the good fight and finished well.
At our age, Betty and I are seeing many friends say goodbye to family members, and we identify with their pain. You likely feel the loss of loved ones during the holidays and wish they could be dining at your table.
We also understand far too many people find themselves in dysfunctional families – and that brings a different kind of sorrow when pain, abuse, selfishness and other negative forces replace love and acceptance. Yet, almost every year, many return to the family, seeking to remember and reinforce the positive aspects of our family experiences. We are drawn together, even if it means facing the pain of the past. Why do we do this? Because families are the cornerstone of our lives. Individually and collectively, families are intended to make us strong as people and as a nation.
So as we sing Christmas carols, exchange gifts with friends, and take a few days off to rest and relax, let’s not forget the family. Whether it’s an endeavor of remembrance or restoration, this Christmas can be a truly special holiday if our families can come together and return to that place of unconditional love. We are celebrating the birth of THE ONE who makes unconditional love and forgiveness possible.