Tuesday morning I got to babysit for my favorite little boys in the world, H and W. H, who is 5 (will be 6 in February, he is always quick to remind me!), was telling me all about how excited he was to bake a birthday cake for Jesus. And that got me thinking about last Sunday when I taught Sunday School to the Kindergarteners and 1st graders...
This time of year, there's a lot of talk about remembering the real reason for the season ("Jesus!", the kids would exclaim), but I'm not sure if all of it actually penetrates. We get so caught up in the presents and the wreaths and the cookies that we forget exactly why we're celebrating anyway: the manger. I was definitely reminded this weekend.
On Sunday, the younger kids had a birthday party for Jesus, complete with cake, ice cream and party hats, but no presents. This threw a lot of them off, as they aren't used to parties without presents. One little girl, who is absolutely precious and reminds me a lot of who I was as a five-year-old (very much a know-it-all), said something that will stick with me forever. "It's not about what's under the tree, you guys," she said, "it's about what was in the manger." WOW. I mean, what kind of five-year-old thinks that deep? (I'm still convinced it's something she read on a Christmas card or something, but we'll give her the benefit of the doubt.)
The older kids and I made "Good Deed Trees" and talked about how important it is to follow Jesus' teachings. As we went around the table sharing the good deeds we had done that week, I was struck by the simplicity of the concept: it doesn't have to take a lot of effort to go out of your way to make someone feel good. "I was nice to my brother", some said. "I made cookies for my neighbor," shared another. Simple, everyday, almost mundane things that are all considered "good deeds" and most likely bring a smile to someone's face. And how easy are they? Really easy. It doesn't take much to make [most] people happy... Just a little something to think about.
Back to H's birthday cake, though. Listening to him talk about it and what it meant to him made me think about my family's Christmas Eve traditions and how special they are to me.
Every Christmas Eve since I was little, my parents allowed us to open one present on the 24th, and (surprise!) it's always an ornament. It's really neat, when we decorate the tree every year, to be able to look at each ornament and remember Christmases past.
Also, each year, after the Christmas Eve service and once everyone's in their PJ's, we cuddle up as a family on the couch and read several stories. First, Mom reads the Christmas story from the Gospel according to Luke. Then, one of the kids, usually me, reads us 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and The Polar Express. Some years, we make reindeer food (oats and glitter) and sprinkle it in the yard with some carrots. We always put out milk and [ginger] cookies for Santa and make sure that the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.
Then it's off to bed until the morning! Santa caution-tapes the top of the stairs so that no one can sneak down before the rest of the family. Usually we set a time (i.e. 7:00) that's the earliest anyone can be woken up, and all five of us have to be up and together before anyone can descend the stairs to see what Santa left.
I'm looking forward to a special day full of love, laughter and good things to eat. May your day be filled with the ones that you love as well. Merry Christmas!