Traditions of Christmas vary from home to home. As a boy, I recollect scrambling into bed early on Christmas Eve to give Santa plenty of time to visit and leave his presents. In those days there was a pillowcase fixed to the end of the bed, to be filled—hopefully—with all kinds of goodies.
Then comes the time when reality awakens and Santa becomes the mythical figure while parents assume the rightful role of provider. I also remember that when able to, I wrote a brief letter of thanks to grandparents or others who had sent a gift. It is always great to say thank you.
Our children went through those routines, but now they're grown, married and have homes of their own, it's grandchildren who seem to take the limelight. What a special moment it is when grandchild opens a present, tearing away the specially bought wrapping paper, and find the gift that brings a sparkle to the eyes!
I can remember among special presents, clothing (Christmas seemed the best time other than birthdays to replenish a child's wardrobe), a wrapped gift of a piece of fruit or even at times a potato, which brought expectations down to earth. On the odd occasion when this tradition is continued, an almost reproachful “Grandad” seems to say, “What are you doing?” and other gifts are always there. Today for the adults in the family a “draw” is often held so each person buys only a nice and appropriate gift for one other adult. This keeps the budget from blowing out too much! Children of course seem to receive gifts from everyone!
Today part of the ritual is for the young children to help Grandma put up the tree several weeks before Christmas, and little hands help add the sparkle, the lights, the coloured balls and a star that add to the excitement of the season. Then presents seem to materialise—more and more as the big day approaches!
The young children are intrigued and want to open a present with their name on it sometimes a week or more prior to Christmas. A gentle but firm no adds the reason: “We all want to be present when the gifts are opened.” Presents have been shaken to guess the contents, squeezed when no-one is looking and even at times a small tear comes in the coloured wrappings! But the greatest time for everyone is being there together when the presents are given out and opened. Christmas is certainly a time of togetherness.
Besides presents (and hopefully remembering the One who gave the best gift of all and others less fortunate), Christmas lunch is always extremely special. Nowadays, Christmas lunch is planned around the whole family. Sometimes we meet at our home, and sometimes at the home of one of the married children. That depends on where we're all living at the time and on other factors. Everyone brings food, food and more food. Even above birthdays, Christmas is a time of fellowship—just being together as a whole family—and eating together.
These great family traditions mean so much to our family. But my thoughts also go to a wider family the Scriptures call the “whole family of God in heaven and earth.” There is coming a great day when the reward of eternal life is given out. There will be the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” when the redeemed of all ages eat together in the place our Lord has prepared.
I read again Hebrews 11, where the greats who have lived through the ages are mentioned—the people of faith. There is righteous Abel; Enoch, who walked with God; Noah, who made the ark before the Flood came. There is Abraham, father of the faithful; and Moses, who turned his back on the throne of the then world's greatest nation to be with God's people. After listing this and mentioning many more, the writer of Hebrews then says: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39, 40).
God has plans for the greatest gathering of the human race ever. No-one (except Moses and Elijah) is yet enjoying the rewards. All receive them when Jesus brings His rewards with Him. At that “great getting-up morning” when the righteous dead from throughout the ages come out from their graves, those in Christ and alive meet Him together in the air—and will forever be with the Lord.
Oh what a day! I want to be there when the whole family of God meet together. What a dream come true—and then what a banquet will be served! And best of all Jesus will be there. Somehow any Christmas family gathering, great though it is, pales into insignificance when Jesus gives immortality.