We have so many traditions in our family. Some silly. Some tender. All special. Traditions that feel safe and good and right – like anchors of joy in the midst of sometimes turbulent and unpredictable waters.
But what about when your traditions get toppled? When one of the ones who helped make those traditions so special is no longer there?
My father passed away very suddenly when I was 18 years old. Our light detangler, our baker of sausage balls, our professional “get the real tree standing straight and put the star on top” father – gone.
I remember our first Christmas without him; we could not bear to be at home. Longtime friends invited us over to spend the night with them – allowing us to do something different, saving us from waking up Christmas morning to traditions with gaping holes ripped through them. Being out of the house felt different enough to be safe.
But we knew we could not avoid our home at Christmas for the rest of our lives. We didn’t want to. And so we had to find a new normal for our family. As my brother puts it, we found a way to hold on to the traditions that really made us feel connected to Dad while also making new ones that let us mark a new start in our lives.
One tradition we started was buying a new Christmas ornament every year – an ornament that reminded us of a much loved husband and father. Silly little things like a fishing moose or one of his favorite cartoon characters.
We also added a homemade pizza night during Christmas. Pizza would be baked and then eaten by candlelight, two teens and a widowed mother sitting cross-legged on the living room floor while watching a movie. A simple time of togetherness that ministered deeply to aching hearts.
And then there were the traditions we kept –ones like making Dad’s favorite sausage balls for Christmas morning breakfast and putting up a real tree. Okay. So the real tree tradition did not last long. The need for hooks in the wall and fishing line to make the tree stop falling over opened our eyes to see that a fake tree would actually be just fine.
New traditions and old traditions – melded together to help us press through. A place where Christmas will certainly never be the same without my dad, and yet a place where we are able to make new memories full of joy and hope and light.
Maybe you are dreading Christmas morning and family gatherings this year because of who won’t be there. Perhaps you wish you could just skip Christmas all together. If that is you, please know I am praying for you and asking the Lord to minister tenderly to your heart.
Or maybe you are years and years out from the loss like me. What are some traditions you have added to honor the memory of your loved one? What are traditions you decided to keep? I so hope you will share. What comforted you may be a comfort to someone else this Christmas.
“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (The Message)
Praying you feel the God of all healing and comfort come alongside you this Christmas. I am forever grateful He sent His Son – Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. And I am so thankful that when our traditions have to change, we can cling to a God who never changes.