I am finding myself a little nostalgic this Christmas season for Christmases past. I am reflecting on those Christmases when Christmas Day was a very special family day. In those days every member of the family went to my Grandmother Richardson’s house to celebrate Christmas together. Family members brought wonderful foods, and we had a delicious Christmas dinner together. Names of every adult family member had earlier been drawn from a hat (probably at the Thanksgiving Day family get-together) so that each family member gave one gift to one other family member. We children were exempted and generally received a gift from almost every aunt and uncle. This was a special time with nieces and nephews and cousins, and in many ways it became the epitome of Christmas for me. I even recall the Christmas when one of my cousins was serving in the army and was stationed in Germany. He wasn’t home for Christmas, and his absence left a hole in the family Christmas experience.
This Christmas is very different. In fact, Christmas is mostly over for me. Our family is scattered from South Carolina to east and middle Tennessee. One of my daughters and her husband are airline pilots, and their schedules provide only restricted timeframes in which to celebrate Christmas. So Christmas began a week-and-a-half ago when we celebrated with the exchanging of gifts for this portion of our family. Then a week before Christmas we went to Nashville, exchanging gifts to be opened later with one of our daughters and her family and actually opening gifts with our other daughter. We have a few gifts under the tree to be opened tomorrow, but Evelyn and I will be doing that together at home. For the extended family, Christmas was virtually concluded a week before the day and it was celebrated in fragmented intervals with a scattered family. I have found myself reflecting on the fact that Christmas is a season and not a day, and the spirit of a family Christmas is more important than a large family get-together.
Then my nostalgia caught up with reality. My grandmother died in 1958. Her family continued to get together at Thanksgiving and Christmas for over a decade after that; but beginning during seminary years when I was serving as pastor of a church, I was the one who often was breaking the family tradition. My church in Indiana was too far away to drive home and back on Christmas Day. I had responsibilities that tied me to the celebration of Christmas with my “church family” that overshadowed my clan back in Alabama. Then I recalled that my father’s family had only once in my memory ever tried to get together for a family reunion. His family had been scattered from Illinois to Michigan to Alabama; and while we went by and visited with one or two of my aunts and uncles each year at Christmas time, the family gathering was never a complete one.
So the times are not just changing for me this year—they have been a-changing for a long time. I was the first in my Richardson clan to move far away and to be away regularly at Christmas time. In the Fink clan, we never really developed a Christmas family tradition. So I have been living with a changing Christmas tradition for a long time. It just seems different this year with family scattered, with celebrations observed on several occasions, and with just the two of us together on Christmas Day. The joy of togetherness, the excitement of opening presents, the good food and fellowship around the table may not be focused on one day this year; but it is Christmas just the same—and it has been for the last week-and-a-half. Maybe the spirit of the season is more important than one twenty-four hour sweep on the clock. Even the first Christmas was celebrated far from home, in a strange setting, and with strangers sharing the occasion. So my Christmas Day will not be so different after all.