My Favorite (Unexpected) Christmas Tradition

You never really know you have expectations until those expectations aren’t met. Every Christmas season I’m reminded of our first married Christmas – and the expectations I didn’t know I was bringing into our new marriage.

We got married in June of 2000 and – not all that unusual for a newlywed couple – we were poor. My husband was beginning a four-year residency and I had a job with a PR firm. We were working hard but had little in the bank to show for it.  

When Christmas rolled around, I dreamed of creating a beautiful Christmas tree full of new ornaments that would set my husband’s heart aglow and underscore what a great decision he’d made in marrying me. #motives

One Saturday afternoon in December, I brought home an entire tree’s worth of ornaments (each at 50% off, because again, money was tight). Instead of being excited, he told me we hadn’t budgeted for ornaments, and he wanted me to take each one back. He told me not to worry, because he already had decorations for our tree. At that, he handed me an old, crumpled box full of his childhood tchotchke ornaments – soccer balls, glitter paw prints from his high school team, dough snowmen with missing eyes, etc.

They didn’t cover Christmas decorations in our pre-marital counseling sessions, so there we were with clashing expectations of what Christmas would look like – literally. To be honest, I don’t remember the details of what happened next. I think we agreed I would take back half of the decorations and have a sparsely decorated tree and we’d keep his old, broken ornaments in a box in the attic.

I’d love to say our first Christmas season moved forward with us laughing all the way…. However, as I spent more time with my other newlywed friends, I found out they were all collecting something to commemorate their Christmases as a married couple. Some were starting to collect quaint replica villages; others were collecting plates; still others were acquiring delicate porcelain bells. The idea was that each year they would add to the collection and in the sunset years of their marriage, they would look fondly at their amassed collections and reminisce on all the great years of Christmases past. I got misty-eyed as I flashed forward to us flashing back to our first years of marriage.

As soon as I came back to the present moment, I decided we, too, needed to start collecting and commemorating. Yes, this was a great married tradition to start, and I was excited to start married traditions.

Before I took my grand plan to my husband, I started looking at different items for us to collect. Villages? Plates? Bells? Maybe I’d just let him decide (what a submissive wife I was already…). I made my pitch, but much to my disappointment, he was not into it. He said, “We don’t have the money or the space to start collecting things.” Expectations – that I didn’t even know I had – thwarted.

At this point, my first married Christmas wasn’t all that fun, and my attitude was in free-fall. All I wanted was to create a Christmas season that we would look back upon fondly (and paint me as a wife who was up to the task of making Christmas happen). I started feeling sorry for myself and did the only thing left to do (which should have been the first thing): I prayed.

I prayed about my attitude; I prayed God would change my husband (I’ve learned a lot about praying that specific prayer in the last 21 years, ha!); and I prayed that God would give us a way to celebrate Christmas that was meaningful and would create wonderful memories.

What a gracious God we serve. I was convicted of pursuing a shiny Christmas instead of the Light of the World. And I was convicted of promoting myself at Christmas instead of Jesus. And as I prayed about what special tradition we could start, God gave me an idea to spend an evening talking only about our blessings. A Blessing Dinner.

I suggested it to my husband even though I honestly thought it might be kind of hokey. And, though we wouldn’t have anything to look back on like tangible villages, plates or bells, this seemed like a good compromise. We had to eat dinner anyway and the activity was free, so it was an easy “yes” from him. We decided to plan a specific evening to go out to dinner and our only conversation would be giving voice to our blessings. No idle chit-chat, no complaining, no desiring more. Just counting our blessings.

Even walking into the restaurant, I thought we might feel silly or that we might run out of things to talk about before the waiter brought our food. Quite the opposite. It wasn’t awkward at all, it was uplifting. Not only did we not run out of things to talk about, but we could have stayed there for days without repeating the good things our God has done for us – first being sending Jesus to save us.

As we left the restaurant, I was lighter, happier, at ease, and overwhelmed with His goodness. We have continued the tradition each year. As our family expanded, so did our Blessing Dinner table. Even when our kids were too young to talk, they were present to hear their parents speak the language of gratitude.

As far as not having tangible keepsakes like villages, plates or bells, God took care of that, too. We have family pictures from the years of our Blessing Dinner that come with some of the most amazing (and hilarious) stories. There was the year that we went to a Chinese restaurant and our family was mistakenly seated in a party room for a Bar Mitzva. People kept coming up to our table and asking us how we knew the host family; if we’d flown in from out of town, etc. We told them we were locals, didn’t know the family, but explained our Blessing Dinner to them. As the news of who we were and what we were doing spread around the room, and there were shouts of Shalom from every corner. When we left, the whole extended family and friends sent us off with well wishes and hugs. What a night….

In addition, over the years, we’ve had the best conversations with waitstaff and other diners within earshot. While we started this tradition for ourselves, we didn’t realize the impact it would have on others. People love hearing the recounting of blessings and are curious as to why our language sounds so different in their ears. All of our conversations with strangers during our Blessing Dinners have been an additional gift for that evening and we look back on them fondly.

Our Blessing Dinner is by far my favorite Christmas tradition… and I don’t miss collecting villages or plates, or bells one bit. As I look back on our first married Christmas 21 years ago, I’m thankful we were so broke that all we could afford was to talk about how blessed we were.

Dear Lord, thank You for crushing our expectations in the most beautiful way. You are and You give more than we could ask for or imagine. Lord, may we pursue You this Christmas season. The “stuff” is fun, but Jesus is EVERYTHING. May we keep our focus on You, not on what moth and rust can destroy. Thank You that we don’t need to “make Christmas happen.” It happened as You said it would. We need only abide. You sent Jesus here to save us and we wait eagerly for Him to come again. Maranatha! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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