What do we do with December 25th?
2018 has been a year of change in our family. Having stepped out of the church to embrace the 7 Laws of Noah, we’ve enjoyed a freedom and assurance in our lives we’ve never experienced before – albeit tainted somewhat by the common feelings of isolation. We are blessed though, our children (25, 23, 16, and 13) came along on this journey with us which is a lot more than some can hold to. However, one of the biggest challenges my husband and are facing is dealing with The Holidays. Yep… the “most wonderful time of the year” is now looming on the horizon and my youngest is getting more and more demanding about how and what we’ll be celebrating this winter while all her friends are celebrating Christmas.
Obviously, we aren’t going to be doing Christmas – and at first I thought that prezzies and sweeties were all my children were worried about missing – but after discussing it over the past couple months, it came to light that what they were most upset about was letting go of all our Christmas traditions – the Christmas morning brunch with Mum’s Famous Omelet, piles of fresh fruit, Dad’s amazing crepes, followed by a day spent together as a family playing games and watching favourite movies – but they were also speaking of the tradition of going to church to spend time with friends. I confess I have been “looking back to Egypt” in my own mind as well. As a mum, I love blessing my children, I love having an excuse to buy them nice new things and looking forward to spending a laughter-filled day as a family with everyone basking in the glow of the Christmas tree, I even loved the focus that observing Advent gave us. But nope, that’s all over for us… and I confess that I’ve been struggling as much as my 13-year-old.
Armed with determination to find some way to give my children something to celebrate, I searched online and discovered that many families adopt Chanukah as their new tradition, adapting it to make it Gentile-friendly. As much as I understand why they’ve decided this, it simply didn’t feel right for our family. Besides being absolutely certain that I don’t know enough about this Jewish holiday to be comfortable adopting its traditions as our own, I was also concerned it would seem phony to my children as it’s not really part of our heritage. So, with the help of my older daughter, we came up with our own plans for this coming winter break.
Traditionally, we invite special friends over for a games night to ring in the New Year, so with that as a starting point, we decided to “develop” New Year’s Eve instead of trying to redeem Christmas day. Okay, so… next we had to decide what we wanted to make this new day about? Naturally it’s a time of reflection for the secular world, just as Rosh Hashanah is for the Jewish community, so we thought that maybe we could focus on REFLECTION for part of our new celebration. But secular New Years is all about the upcoming year… so we decided to add VISION to the mix. But even that seemed hollow without PURPOSE. In Micah 6v8 we are called to embrace kindness, so we decided to add KINDNESS as an overlaying theme to our holiday. And there is nowhere where kindness is more needed than at home – especially a home with teens living in it! So my daughter and I brainstormed and came up with a fun and, I like to think, inspiring way to handle the winter holidays. And now I want to share it with you.
First, we have VISION. We will have a family evening a couple of days before school holidays start where each person will draw the name of another family member. This person will now become the “target” of their holidays. We’ll start out with a game of sorts… each person will get a chance to write down three plans – or goals – for the upcoming year. Then, taking turns starting with the youngest, reads their list aloud to the family, after which they will be asked one open ended question by each of the other family members about something on their list without giving away if they are or are not the person who has drawn their name. The goal is to find out as much as possible to help everyone plan the next stage of their “secret mission”.
Next (and this is where the game splits into multiple facets), everyone plans to buy a single gift that they feel will help their “target” reach that goal in the new year. For example: if my eldest drew his youngest sister’s name, and she had said that “completing her swimming levels” was one of her goals for 2019, he might consider buying her a swimming related gift, say, a new pair of goggles to help her achieve that goal. He’ll also be writing her a card, explaining why he bought what he bought and giving her words of encouragement in achieving her goal. The gift should be something small, we’ve limited the budget to between £5-£15 for each person – so my teens are not tempted into spending everything they have.
Part two of this “secret mission” is the PURPOSE part of our plans. The person whose name was drawn is also your “target” for Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs) which is in keeping with our theme of KINDNESS. These acts should be anonymous – think RAK Ninja – and service based (though a small treat now and then might not go amiss). I want everyone to be purposely vigilant for opportunities to be kind, to serve each other, to practice practical kindness. This portion lasts from the meeting till New Year’s Eve when it has been revealed who your RAK Ninja has been.
And last but not at all least… REFLECTION. Like all families, we spend our fair share of time… um, working out our differences, shall we say. And therein lies the last little bit of our holiday plans. Each person in the family will be commissioned to write a short (or long if they feel the calling) letter to EACH other family member (meaning, each person is writing five letters in our case, including a second note to the person who has been their mission for the holiday) – telling them the good they saw in them during the past year. As a society we struggle with self-esteem issues. In this world of perfect Pinterest pins, photo-shopped Instagram photos, and idealized Facebook posts – we can often feel like our lives don’t measure up. I look to my teens in school who are caught up in the comparing game with their peers, at my adult children who struggle in their fledgling flights into the world of the daily grind, and even my husband and I who work so hard to keep everything afloat yet often feel we fall so short. Each of us fighting our own battles inside… I want us to take a moment to reflect, not on ourselves, but rather on each other. Because at the end of the day, what people think of us does matter to us. I think we’re designed that way, a kind of built-in accountability gene that HaShem put in to keep us conscious of our best behaviour – how else can one explain how even our youngest children behave so much better with everyone else?
And there we have it. We’ve come up with a brand-new tradition of Reflection, Purpose, and Vision to encourage us in this new journey we’re taking… all culminating in our (relocated) traditional breakfast buffet with all their favourites to enjoy… a more thoughtful gift to enjoy, many words of inspiration and encouragement, followed by a laughter-filled day of games and movies and then friends till the wee hours of 2019.
From our house to yours this winter, Blessings.
Shannon and Family