The Gift of Grace: One family’s attempt to marry traditions

My mother made cookies. His made a gingerbread house.

My family re-enacted the nativity story; his went Christmas caroling.

My mother baked homemade goodies to deliver to neighbors; his packaged pecans from the family farm to distribute to friends.

My family ate Christmas “dinner” (at 5 pm); his ate Christmas “lunch” (at 3 pm).

My family went to the children’s service; his went to the midnight service.

I married the son of my mother’s dear friend. We were products of the same schools, same church (Christ Church, in fact), same neighborhood. Our families celebrated holidays together my whole life. Somehow we had always been able to do it all together. But as a young wife and mother, with each passing year, I found myself overwhelmed by the idea of carrying all of it on going forward.

Two families’ worth of holiday traditions was enough to take the joy out of the season.

Add to that pressure of Pinterest with its adorable DIY (doing it yourself) projects for homemade gifts, decorations, and parties, and OH MY! OVERWHELMED!

When you can’t possibly do everything, what do you do?

You do what you can, and you leave space for grace.

Grace is that magic word for unmeasurable and undeserved love that can fill the voids of your mistakes and shortcomings like icing on a Christmas cookie (the more the better), like ad-libbing the second verse of a Christmas carol (seriously who knows more than the first verse anyways?), like placing the perfect ornament in the bald spot on the tree (you know the one).

My mother gave me the greatest gift when once she said, “Take it year by year. You don’t have to say, ‘this year we do this, and next year we’ll do that’ or ‘We do it this way every year.’”


Since that conversation sixteen years ago, Joe and I have had wonderful Christmases–but not one the same; and that’s ok. We’ve done the big extended family thing; we’ve dined with friends on Christmas Eve; we’ve attended the many different services at Christ Church and once a particularly memorable midnight Mass at the British Embassy in Paris; we even spent the holiday in Hungary introducing our first-born to friends there, where we made my mama’s cookies and delivered his mama’s pecans.

Pinterest and social media and family pressure to continue time-honored traditions can weigh heavily on someone who wants to do everything well. When I see the amazing things my friends do, or when I remember something that made me happy as a child, I’m tempted to add in those things. Instead, I remind myself that I don’t have to or that I can treat my family to a “one and done” event. It’s ok.

I’ve learned that if I do nothing else but make sure our family attends Advent Sundays and Christmas Eve church, it’s enough. If I can add in a daily morning Advent prayer at breakfast, even better. If my only decoration is the crèche I leave out most of the year, it’s ok. If we can manage a Salvation Army Angel, awesome. Homemade goodies? Sometimes. Christmas cards? Usually, except for that time I found half of them unfinished in February. Delivering pecans to friends and neighbors? Most years. Christmas Open House? That happened (once).

I give myself a lot of space, remembering what my mama told me, and I pray that God “fills it with grace,” as a friend taught me. Icing on the Christmas cookie.

What is the true gift of Christmas? That tiny baby with the weight of the world on His shoulders is the ultimate gift of grace. He came because we can’t possibly shoulder it all.

I have to admit, I’m not perfect, and that’s ok. God forgives my store-bought dinner rolls at Christmas dinner; He delights in the pumpkin accidentally left out from fall decorations; He loves the gift I hid and won’t find until April; He overlooks the pre-lit tree that was only partially lit last year. All of this is because He preached that we only have to do two things: Love the Lord our God and Love our neighbors as ourselves. If we took all of our holiday traditions and busy-ness and kept only the things that fit into those two columns, would we find the true meaning of Christmas?

Advent and Christmas are seasons filled with magic and wonder for those of all ages; this year, don’t forget to smother it in some grace, too.