So as a third culture kid, we get this awkward situation of Christmas.
In the US, Christmas is by far the largest holiday, most widely celebrated, most crazily prepared and most money spent on. However, Christmas holds a very different weight in other cultures, well, all other countries, pretty much. In other countries, there is the celebration, there are purchasing and giving of gifts, there are Christmas trees. But there really isn’t the laborious dinners, the month long preparations, the overly festive light decorations, the enormous dollar amounts that are spent to prepare and spend Christmas. Most importantly, there really isn’t such things as “long family traditions” that repeat themselves every year during Christmas.
But in the US, every family has some type of tradition. Either open presents together on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, or each person opens one at night, and the rest tomorrow, or going to Christmas service together either on the 24th or the 25th. Also, with meals, the Christmas Eve dinner, or the Christmas morning breakfast/brunch, or the Christmas Day dinner, etc etc. And let’s not forget the baking of pies, cookies, bread, cakes…
But when I’m asked about our family traditions, we really didn’t have them. As an asian person, our family gatherings were more around all the asian historical days (calling them holidays sounds a bit demeaning… they’re lunar days that remember certain events or customs. So perhaps calling them customs would be more appropriate.) Anyhow, so for Christmas, we usually are all doing church activities. Growing up, we went to a large church, and the main sanctuary had to be shared. So on the night of the 23rd, there’s always the children’s program and performances, and then the night of the 24th was the youth program, and then on the night of the 25th, its the adult program. Each service can run up to 2 hours, it had skits, performances, live band and MCs to host, sometimes a sermon/sharing/testimony, and always a reception at the end.
So thinking back on my Christmases, I always spent a whole lot of time at church, preparing for the special services, ushering, singing, rehearsing, something. Always something. So honestly, we didn’t have family tradition. Our family spent all our Christmas days (and the before and after days) in church.
Sometimes, when I explain this to people here in the US, they give me a pitiful look, and say, “Oh, well, that’s unfortunate.” But when I think back, it wasn’t unfortunate, if anything, it was fulfilling. It meant so much more. Bringing Christmas cheer to a lot of other people in our community. Our services were opened for everyone and anyone, and usually our church was flooded with people who’s never been to church and/or never heard what the true Christmas story of Jesus. I’m not blasting anyone else’s traditions, because I have been lucky enough to be invited to join various families and their traditions over the years. But I realized, for me, growing up, Christmas wasn’t just about stuffing our faces, tons of family members hanging out with each other, same after every year, exchanging many many gifts, with torn gift wraps and ribbons and bags. I spent a lot of Christmases rehearsing, remembering the Christmas story, comforting the lonely and the broken, spreading the Christmas story. Not the Santa and presents and decoration part, but the Jesus Christ part. Being born, being remembered, and us being saved.
I think I have a Christmas tradition, too. It may not be the big family dinners and mountains of presents. But just the same, they were great memories and precious moments.