This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I’m Emily Jensen here with my sister-in-law, Laura Wifler. We are so excited today to be talking about the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas. Some of you guys have maybe been listening to Christmas music since Halloween, [laughter] you’re those type of people, but some of you guys are probably getting ready to think about your decorations and what you’re going to do this season. We thought it would be fun to do a lighthearted, yet truthful show about traditions, and children, and the Gospel and all that good stuff.
Laura: Ever since I became a mom, it’s felt so exciting because I have control over what happens at Christmas and it can be as special as I want it to be. Other times, it’s also this huge pressure because it’s never very easy to do that, or things go haywire with kids and it’s a little crazy. I think it’s a learning process for me with Christmas of having these fun things to do, but then also needing to have an open hand.
Emily: Yes, Laura, because I know that family you grew up in obviously, and you know the family I grew up in to some degree, and we can share a little bit about how you and I came from pretty different backgrounds tradition wise. What was it like for you? How has that impacted what you are trying to do as a mom?
Laura: I grew up without a lot of traditions. It was a very loose schedule. We often did not even celebrate Christmas in Christmas Day. It would have been December 17th or January 1st or whatever day we had. We traveled a lot, maybe seeing family, we didn’t do stockings, we didn’t do a traditional meal, I’m trying to think of all the things that regular families do. Not that Christmas wasn’t special; it was wonderful. It was all about family and being together and coziness. That’s the memories I have, but I don’t have these memories of waking up on Christmas morning in my pajamas and eating cookies and this big breakfast and then opening gifts. My dad would be so excited about gifts; he’d be like, “Let’s open one!” on December 3rd!
Emily: Which is how I understand my husband so well. [laughter]
Laura: Yes, that’s funny because even by the time we get to the real Christmas, we’d have like two presents. That’s fine but it’s very different from the traditional way my husband grew up, and like Em will share in a minute, with lots of intense, elaborate, “We do it this way and it doesn’t change,” traditions, which is really, really special. I think that’s something that, as a mom, I want to implement. I’ve seen that and thought, “I would like to do that for my kids.” I think it has helped for me to come from a background that is like, “Anything goes! Whatever we want to do this year!” but at the same time, I also do want to give some of those traditions to my kids, and I think we’ll talk about that going forward. One thing we did have, this is an awesome idea, I’ll share it later but we had a promise tree. We will go into what that was later. That was awesome; my mom killed it on that one.
Emily: I know you guys have a couple of things, but it’s totally interesting when you bring two families together and you see all of those things come out - all those differences. As Laura mentioned, I came from a pretty tradition-heavy background. Actually, my one younger brother has special needs. If you’ve ever been around some people with special needs, they’re very routine oriented, they want a lot of consistency and they will remind you if you forget the consistency. [laughter]
Even if my parents ever wanted to change, they probably couldn’t because my brother knew that on Thanksgiving night, by seven o'clock, we need to be unloading the tree out of the basement and putting it up. [laughter] We really stuck to tradition. Everything from, again, decorating on Thanksgiving night; we had these chocolates, advent calendars, we had stockings, literally down to the specific type of food we ate on Christmas Eve, and the dishes that we ate off of. Everything was really consistent and so I have very vivid Christmas memories. On some ways, I feel like that’s created pressure for me because I feel like, “I want to recreate some of these things for my kids. I have such good memories,” but I find that our life has been unpredictable and challenging.
Laura: She married into my family. [laughter]
Emily: I’ll get more into it later in the show as we talk more, but one Christmas I had newborn twins, another Christmas I had three toddlers. It hasn’t been this ideal thing. I think I’m trying to take a long-term view of Christmas now and say, “My kids probably won’t even remember anything before they’re five.”
Laura: I love that fact. I love that! [laughter] I take that to the bank.
Emily: The things that really stick with them are probably, when I look back, it’s what I did in high school or maybe middle school are the things that I would consider. I don’t really know if we were that strict with traditions when we were young but I’m counting on the fact that I have a few more years to figure it out and get stable.
Laura: I think that’s a huge thing to remember for all of us. I get to Pinterest and I get really excited because I’m like, “Look at all these wonderful ideas!” Then I get super depressed because how much time it takes to implement. The kids are picking their nose in the corner and screaming around, and it never looks like what it’s going to look like, but that doesn’t mean traditions shouldn’t happen.
Emily: I love looking at some of the Biblical reasons for traditions because it’s more than just a cultural thing that we do. Laura brought this out to me and it really hadn’t crossed my mind before that God is the inventor of tradition.
Laura: You’re not going to find the word in the Bible but He did create them. [laughs]
Emily: I love that because as soon as you said it, I was like, “Well, duh, look at the whole Old Testament,” but I had never put two and two together before.
Laura: The entire Old Testament, if you look at any of their ceremonies, any of their festivals, always, it began with God saying, “Remember the Lord your God; remember what He has done for you.” I was thinking about a few different ones of like the Festival of Booths - that was to remember the Jews 40 years in the desert, The Passover was for those that sprinkled the blood of the lamb over their door post, they were “passed over” and saved in Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, remembering their haste or their quick exodus from Egypt. There are so many that the Israelites celebrated; all these festivals and these ceremonies and these rituals.
If you think about it, that’s what traditions are. Traditions are things that we do over and over again. They can be really small like a daily quiet time or they can be really “big” like a Christmas advent calendar or something that takes a little bit more time and happens just once a year. Those things are built to remember what God has done for you in the past.
Emily: It’s a generational thing, especially in the Old Testament. In the New Testament too, you see this model of, that’s how people were passing along the law and the great stories of their faith and the redemption story and how they knew that they were looking forward to a Messiah and how those in the New Testament knew they were looking forward to the second coming of Christ. It was really word of mouth and being faithful to share from one generation to the next. As we are thinking about traditions, we are keeping in mind that this is our overall goal as parents, is to remind our children about what God has already done and to point them ahead to what He is going to still do. Getting them to do things for Christmas is a part of that big plan and it’s one more exciting way you can shake things up. I always like it because it gets me reinvigorated and refocused in a time of the year when I’m typically stressed or I’m busy, so it would probably more fall by the wayside.
Laura: I’ve always felt like traditions are a kiddy thing, and they’re not really for the adults – they just do them for the kids. But as I looked at the Old Testament and I read this book that we’ll share in the show notes, Noel Piper’s Treasuring God in Our Traditions – as I was studying and looking into this stuff, I really felt like, “I’m going to do this for my kids,” but what I started realizing was that, “No, this is for the grownups. This is for me to remember what God has done because He has worked in my own life.” Not only did He work in the Israelites, in the whole past in the redemptive story and bringing everything together and one day waiting for the Messiah, but He’s done that for me. This isn’t just about the Israelites. It’s for His chosen people and it’s about me. That was something that was a big realization for me, is that, “No, I want to do traditions not just for my children but for me to remember what God has done in my life.”
Emily: I love that being able to stay focused on what really matters and the way it can make space for our families to have not only good memories but to remember to focus on Christ, which is the point of the whole season. However you choose to do that in your family is great and keeping that in mind is super important. Laura mentioned Advent and some of you guys may have weird thoughts attached to that.
Laura: I did. I totally did.
Emily: We want to take a few minutes to explain what we mean when we say Advent, if that’s a new word to you or a concept that maybe you haven’t practiced a lot.
Laura: I thought, “That’s for other people or somebody else,” [laughter] I don’t know.
Advent is a season of anticipation. It’s the season leading up to Christmas. You typically start it four Sundays before Christmas and that’s when believers look back to the Old Testament. We’ve been talking about all these things that God did. At the time, in the Old Testament, they didn’t know what God’s plan for redemption exactly was. We get to live on this side of the cross and so we know but they were looking forward with anticipation, with longing for God’s redemption, which was ultimately as we know, Jesus. We get to celebrate these things now but we can take the season of Advent to remember the longing for the Savior.
For us, our longing will be to be reunited with Christ at the end, when He comes back to meet our Savior in full glory. Advent is a season for both looking back at what God’s done, again, I feel like a broken record, but also looking forward to what Christ will yet do.
There are some things around that that people do. I mentioned an Advent calendar or Advent candles; you light a candle on each Sunday leading up to it. Advent calendars have a daily thing, you’ve probably seen them. They’re Pinterest hits so you’ve probably seen them. We can link to a couple of ideas. I have an Advent calendar that I really like that I just made. If you want to do those things, that’s what that is and I think it’s a great, great time to do a devotional. There are millions of devotionals out there for Advent and to really just think about what God’s done for you and be grateful for His work in your life, and His plan to someday fully redeem all of us.
Emily: Like Laura said, definitely go to our show notes and we will try to include some resources so you can get a better idea of what Advent is and different ideas. I think whatever you do, we wanted to give some ideas, principles, again, of how to apply. One of the things that’s been hard for me is planning ahead because I don’t think about Advent until one week into Advent. [laughs]
Laura: Unfortunately, the show is coming out end of November and so I feel like, “We should have started in October!”
Emily: But in October, it’s hard to click on something called “Christmas.”
Laura: So true. This is for this year and next year!
Emily: Especially if you have young children, again, just start something and figure it out. I have a little chain link that counts down in the whole month of December that I hang up for our kids. This will be my third year of using it and literally, when I take it down in January, I put it in a zip lock bag and put it in a drawer so it’s ready to go for the next year. It’s nice because sometimes, once you invest that upfront time one year, it’s something that you can use over and over again.
Laura: Last year was when I finally implemented the Advent calendar that I landed on, so I’ve tried a few of these. Totally a home job but it’s funny because I realized the ones I was doing in the past were maybe a bit too old for my kids, so it took a bit to find an age-appropriate one.
I feel like there are times when it feels like your kids are too young and crazy to be doing these traditions, but even if they are running around and going crazy and saying, “I don’t want to do this,” you can still talk to them about the importance of trying to sit even though they’re squirming and playing with Legos. I remember a lot of times my kids would play with the Nativity while we would do our Advent calendar.
That’s one thing; don’t idealize it. Remember that it’s not going to be perfect, that there’s going to be fights, there’s going to be tears, all those things, but they are taking things in more than you know. I think Emily mentioned this on a show in the past, of a lot of these things that we start doing when they’re really little, they will grow up knowing that, “This is the way that we go. This is the thing that my family does.” If you’re diligent to work with them now, a lot of times in the future, it gets easier and easier with these rhythms and routines.
Emily: Just wanted to jump on too, this point of, don’t idealize it because I think that I came into motherhood idealizing traditions and idealizing routines. I’ve really struggled because in the last three to four years, like I mentioned early in the show, I had newborn twins one year, I had three children under three years and I didn’t even put up a Christmas tree because it would have gotten torn down [laughter] in a second. Last year, I had a miniature tree that was up on a shelf where no one would reach. [laughter]
Laura: It was so high up; it was really funny.
Emily: This year, my husband and I, we’re going to be moving right at Christmas time and we may not even have a tree. That is four years in a row of not my ideal and craziness, and so I’ve had to lay that down and say, “It’s not about my decorations, it’s not about the foods I’m doing, it’s not about my perfect activities.” My kids probably won’t sit through a dressed up tree for several years, but that’s okay. However, I can point my children to Christ, even in things like, we drink hot cocoa and talk about Jesus or, we listen to Christmas music in the car, good hymns and look at Christmas lights, or whatever those things are. It’s okay that they’re small and crazy and again, trying to take that long-term view. I wanted to point that out, of if you feel like, “Hey, I’m failing at this,” I’m going on four years [laughter] of not anything like what I planned or what I hope for the future, but want to have an open hand and not let Advent turn me into a crazy-stressed out-angry mom.
Laura: That’s a great way that you can show your children the reason of the season, to use that silly catch phrase, [laughter] but your attitude is going to reflect to them what they’re going to remember about Christmas. That is something that I really took from my mom, is that this is about family. If I’m going to tell you what Christmas was about growing up, it was about being together as a family. I couldn’t even tell you any of the other things because they changed all the time and everything was a little bit crazy, but I really appreciate that that’s that it was about.
We can do all these fun other things, but ultimately, it’s about Jesus Christ being the center, and you guys being together as a family. As Emily said, don’t have this perfect picture of what it’s going to look like. Hopefully, you can incorporate traditions in. Hopefully, for any of the young moms too, we have lots of years to really build that. [laughter] Other ideas that we wanted to shoot out - service. Go bake cookies together, operation Christmas Child is a big one, make cards, go sing carols at a nursing home. Those are easy things that you don’t have to do anything with décor every single night.
Emily: Laura mentioned, which I love this idea, getting a nativity set that your children can play with. We have one and I’ll link to in the show notes. It’s just little people; it’s totally plastic. They love it and they play with it every day for like a month and it’s a perfect way to talk about the Gospel and the story of Christmas with your children.
Laura: Then Jesus’ birthday cake, that’s something I grew up doing. Remembering that this is Jesus’ birthday, we forget that very easily, so you can do a cake for Him. Making traditional foods. I know that my husband has so many memories around food. [laughter] Again, I don’t, but I want to incorporate that in, those are easy things, hopefully, makes our lives easier - we always do cinnamon rolls. Singing carols as Emily mentioned. Memories in music. I know too, letting my son pick out the gifts for family and friends. That’s a huge life lesson for him because we go to the store specifically for that family member. He’s not getting a toy out of it. We have to think about, “Okay, why are we doing this?” We talk through why we buy our friends or cousins or whomever gifts, and then we also say, “What would your friend or your cousin like?” not, “What would you like?” I think that’s been a huge lesson for him to think of others. That’s something you’re already going to do anyway so why not turn it into a special time to teach your child about Jesus?
Emily: Now I am so excited to go get out all my Christmas decorations and then put them back in a few weeks when I maybe move! [laughter] Anyways, we will try to have a ton more resources for you guys on the show notes. I know I’ve written about this. I don’t know Laura if you’ve written about it but we’ll have anything that we have on the topic. Definitely go check those out at risenmotherhood.com. If you enjoyed the show and you’re a regular listener, please think of leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. It’s really, really helpful for other moms to find us and hear the Gospel applies to motherhood. Again, we are in social media as @RisenMotherhood so hope you guys have a great Christmas. I’m not going to start singing for you because you’ll turn it off. [laughter]
Laura: Have a great Christmas everyone.