Unexpected Traditions and the True Meaning of Christmas

A year ago, my left hand was in a cast to recover from surgery to reconnect the thumb tendon I'd severed in a kitchen accident. A back injury had incapacitated my man-of-steel husband. As a result, we wisely decided to forego decorating the house for Christmas. "It's only for one year," we told each other. "We'll do things up right next year."

Those were, dear readers, our most Famous. Last. Words.

A month ago, we stumbled upon a house that satisfied every condition on our someday-we'd-like-to-downsize-and-live-in-a-house-with-the-following-features list, and we bought it. We'll be moving sometime during the holidays, and our Christmas decorations are too big and too numerous for the new home. So we donated our tree and half our decorations to Good Will. And we decided not to decorate for the holidays for the second year in a row.

That, dear friends, is how unexpected holiday traditions begin at our house.

Parents of kids with special needs are all too familiar with holiday traditions of the unexpected kind. We know too much about canceling holiday plans because a medically fragile child spikes a fever, changing travel routes from Grandma's house to the hospital for emergency Christmas surgery, or arriving late for family gatherings and leaving early to lessen the likelihood of meltdowns in kids who are sensory sensitive.

That, dear parents, is how unexpected holiday traditions begin families like ours.

Two thousand years ago, an unexpected tradition began one starry night when a young woman gave birth to the Son of God, assisted only by her husband. Though this Baby's coming had been promised in Scripture, no one thought the Messiah would be born in a dirty manger. Witnessed by barnyard animals. In a backwater town like Bethlehem. Except for God, of course, who sent angels to announce the glad tidings to shepherds watching their flocks by night.

That, fellow worshipers, was the beginning of the most unexpected tradition in history.

We are about to celebrate the wonder of God's unexpected, marvelous gift once again. Though the circumstances of our families' celebrations may be different from what we anticipated– perhaps no decorations in the house, tending sick kids at home, sleeping on a cot next to a child's hospital bed, or too little time with family due a child's special needs–we can still rejoice in the gift of God's sweet Son. We can marvel in the common bond we share with the holy family. For we, like Mary and Joseph, are charged to care for children who have needs quite different from those of most children. We, like Mary and Joseph, deal with unexpected situations in strange places as we parent our kids. We, like Mary and Joseph, know better than most that God is in control of our children's lives, and we are not.

That bond, weary parents, creates in us an unexpected mindset about Christmas traditions.

We can enjoy and embrace and be grateful for the occasional rare and picture-perfect Christmas. We can wait calmly for unexpected circumstances that turn our Christmases upside down. For we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when those Christmases come, God who was with Mary and Joseph and Jesus in a dirty manger in a backwater town, is with us and with our children, too wherever we may be.

That unexpected and eternal promise, dear moms and dads, is the true meaning of Christmas.

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son,
and they shall call His name Immanuel,"
which translated means, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:23