'Tis the Season to be Brave

 Last year we pottered along at Christmas, doing things the way we usually did. For my household, that's waking up together, opening stockings, then some presents, having cinnamon rolls for breakfast, going to church, having Christmas dinner at either my parents or my in-laws, then swapping for the afternoon and opening the relevant presents, and finally ending up at my brother's house in the evening with all my siblings for more presents and games till very late. This is why I never watch TV on Christmas Day - with five locations to be at and thirty people to see, it doesn't even feature.

There was a moment last year though that was different to any we'd had before. We were at my brother's house at the end of the day and we'd swapped most of the presents and had all our "Oooo," and "Oh, wow, thankyou!" moments as we'd each opened our gifts. Then my sister and brother-in-law, who'd waited till last, started handing out theirs. The little kids got some fun toys. The adults got some vouchers for photo shoots. But the middle kids - the five high school and college aged cousins - got something different. They each had a frame with a different graphic and bible verse alongside it. They were really fantastically designed and a great gift anyway, but then Dave and Naomi came alongside each kid and started to speak over them to explain why they'd got it. The room fell silent as they told the first kid about how they'd prayed over them and what they felt like God was saying about them right now and about their future, and how the contents of their frame summed this up. They did this for each of the five kids, and by the end there were many tears shed in the room as we all looked at our kids/grandkids/nephews and nieces with new eyes, hearing what had just been spoken over them. 

I don't know how everyone in the room felt in that moment - at first, some may have been embarrassed at such a light moment taking such a serious turn, and may have felt awkward or confused, wondering what was going on - but I think it turned out to be the best moment of Christmas Day for most of us. I know my kids really appreciated it, and have kept their frames in pride of place this year, throughout bedroom swaps and even a move to university halls.

It got me thinking after that about traditions and families and how easy it is to slip into doing the same thing all the time because you presume that if you break the mould and do something different, it might not go down well. From playing games through to stopping proceeding to pray over each other, each family has things they wouldn't have considered doing because it just wasn't their thing. But all traditions started somewhere. At some point, someone had to be bold enough to just go for it and see what happens - to risk some temporary awkwardness to do something that was significant to them.

It might sound easy for me to say this because I'm from an extended family of Christians, where doing 'churchy stuff' is seen as normal. I do know though, that our own family has certainly changed and developed habits over the years that we wouldn't have considered a decade or more ago. On Boxing Day, when my dad's side of the family gather every year, I'm sure my memories as a kid are of us eating a huge dinner, opening presents and watching TV, and that was it. Then at some point we must've introduced singing together, and now we can't imagine our Boxing Days without it. We even have lyric sheets that we hand out to share. We also began introducing games, which meant there was no time for TV, and in order to facilitate our ever-growing numbers, we swapped the sit down roast dinner for a huge bring-and-share buffet which shared the load more equally between us.

Then there was a particularly rough year - maybe it was when one of us was critically ill, or my cousin needed a kidney transplant, or there had been a marriage breakdown, or one of the other many events that have shaken us over the years - and my Grandma just decided to share a bible verse and a few words with us. She got up and nervously asked for our attention, shared her thoughts and then prayed for us all as a family. It wasn't what we normally did, and we all froze and listened intently. And we really, really appreciated it, probably all the more because we felt what a brave thing it was to do. Those few shaky words turned out to be really powerful, and we encouraged her to do it again the next year. Now, like the Queen's speech, it's something we all expect to hear every Christmas, and we all relax into it and really enjoy it. 

This year, we all have no choice but to do things differently. People's Christmas routines all over the country will be disrupted and we won't be able to slide into the same comfy traditions as we normally do. So maybe this Christmas will be a great opportunity for all of us to do something we wouldn't normally do. In letting go of some of the usual ingredients, maybe there will be room to try something else that hasn't been done before. Maybe this Christmas or New Year will be our shot to break old habits and throw something unexpected into the mix to see how it's received. That seems to be the whole theme of 2020 anyway, right? 

Whatever you do, and whoever you end up with, I hope you have a fantastic time and end up loving one of the craziest Christmas seasons of our lives xx


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