I've tried to take a different approach to this Christmas season than I have in the past. I made the conscious decision to let my daughters' preferences lead me in what traditions matter to them, instead of trying to replicate all of the traditions that I've always loved. This has meant that some things have gone missing this year:
Gingerbread House: We didn't decorate a gingerbread house. Not even the kind from a kit. We are baking gingerbread cookies tomorrow for our open house on the 26th, but only because K very much wants them. None of the girls have expressed remorse over not assembling and decorating a house of our own.
Cookie Party: For the first time in seven years, we did not have or attend a cookie decorating party. When A was in preschool, a friend invited her over for a cookie decorating party. We loved it so much that we've done it every year... until now. I had fully intended to continue this tradition, but the timing simply didn't work out. The day I had picked for the party (the first full day of Christmas Break), A had the opportunity to dance. A loves any opportunity to perform and this month has been completely free of performances since she isn't in The Nutcracker. So I agreed to let her dance and realized later that a commitment to dance at noon on the other side of town pretty much eliminated the opportunity to have a cookie party.
Birthday Party: K has desperately been wanting to have a party since our kitchen was finished late this summer. I have been her roadblock since it took me months to get the dining room painted. It had seemed the perfect occasion for the party would be my birthday. We often use my mid-December birthday as an excuse for a party. At my request, we started this six years ago and have been on roughly a bi-annual schedule. It actually worked out that the birthday party didn't happen this year, since I'll be 39 next year - a number that merits a celebration, don't you think?
Pecan Tassies: Even without a cookie party, I've been baking. I hope to finish up tomorrow, but we've already made Surprise Teacakes, Sugar Cookies, Lemon Whippersnappers and Peanut Brittle. With the exception of the sugar cookies, these are all cookies I baked with my grandmother, starting when I was around 13. But she always, always made Pecan Tassies for Christmas. For those of you who (sadly) have not sampled these lovely treats, they are akin to miniature pecan pies with a cream cheese crust. They are wonderful. But they are also a lot of work. So I skipped them this year. Thus far, no one has noticed.
Along with these intentional omissions, there have been a few less intentional ones. We've yet to make it through an Advent season where we read the Advent devotion as a family daily. This year was no exception. We didn't even manage to light the Advent Wreath together each Sunday (which seemed like a fairly low expectation a few weeks ago). In the past, the girls have made homemade decorations - snowflakes, paper chains, etc. - to adorn the home. This year they introduced some friends to German Bells, but they haven't asked to do others this year, so it hasn't happened.
These absent events have had multiple effects. They've allowed room for more quiet - both internal and external. They've made space for us to determine as a family what Christmas should look like. That is something that is still evolving, but this year has made me more determined than ever to make sure my daughters have a voice in what aspects of celebrating Christmas mean the most to them. I loved having gumbo on Christmas Eve for the first twenty years of my life and I'd like to make sure the things they love are the things we don't change. And some of the things that have been missing from our Christmas created room for unexpected blessings.
While we didn't decorate a gingerbread house, some family friends dropped by one day with this for us:
Not pushing to squeeze in a cookie party when my original date fell through gave us the gift of time this week. Monday was a bit warmer, so we went for a walk on the greenway, where my girls found a partially frozen creek that merited exploration. I think I'd rather have these memories than some beautifully decorated cookies:
Choosing to forgo the birthday party allowed us to have an open house on the 26th. A post-Christmas party has turned out to be a true delight. We've loved planning for it and having it to look forward to and it feels like a gift to be able to open our home to friends on a day that might otherwise go without celebration.
There are so many lessons packed into my experience of this season that I'm not sure I can unpack all of them. So I'll choose one: I am learning - ever so slowly - how beautiful it is to give up the illusion of control. Even if I worked non-stop and had a perfectly clean home filled with the scent of fresh baked cookies, I could never craft the perfect Christmas season for my family. I have to leave that up to God. And by not trying so hard, I feel like this has been one of our best Christmases ever. We've had time to actually enjoy each other. We aren't rushing around. We're lounging around. We prayed together tonight as a family - far past bedtime after watching a movie together. And we prayed to prepare our hearts for the next two days. Because that's the preparation that really matters - not getting the dishes done and the soups made and the bathrooms clean. Getting our hearts clean and clear and ready to receive.
I am so thankful for the things that have gone missing from this year's Advent. And for what these missing things have taught me in their absence.