Sadly, I could not find any evidence, mental or physical, that I ever mailed my 2016 Christmas letter. It is my best recollection that I never sent this to anyone. So, just to cover my bases, I am posting it now, one year later. You can think of it as a Christmas time capsule.
We are skipping Christmas this year. As time marches on and family circumstances change, we have the opportunity to “skip” the traditions we don’t like, retain those we do like and construct new traditions to take the place of the ones that no longer fit.
When you skip Christmas, it forces you to take a long, hard look at what practices are meaningful and which ones have gotten tacked onto your tradition like grandma’s Claxton fruitcake that somehow makes it onto the Christmas dessert table every year. (Seriously, who still eats that stuff?) You must analyze what part of your celebration has value and what parts can get shoved to the curb for the Salvation Army pickup.
Some of my earliest recollections of Christmas are of the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album playing on the turntable. I remember the Christmas I received a metal dollhouse with plastic furniture. One Christmas, my mother made me a sparkly gold majorette outfit, complete with white go-go boots and a tall hat, adorned with gold braid, made out of an empty white plastic Clorox jug. We watched the Christmas specials (Charlie Brown, Rudolph and others) on TV, and they were only broadcast one time each season. While I don’t have much desire to listen to Herb Alpert any longer, I really wish I still had those go-go boots.
Fast forward to early Christmases with our young family–the anticipation of waiting for Santa, staying up till all hours of the night assembling bikes and other complicated projects, all of which involved feats of engineering too complicated for two people who scored poorly on the spatial reasoning sections of standardized tests. Two families and their traditions merged: Christmas Day bingo, making sugar cookies,Christmas Eve family parties, candlelight services. Our children will some day form their families and their own traditions; they will take remnants of the memories and traditions of their family and their spouse’s family and combine them–just like a fabulous patchwork quilt.
This year is unique. Geoffrey has lived in the D.C. metro area for a whole year, paying for his own car, cell phone and health insurance bill. His trips home for holidays require vacation time and a plane flight to Birmingham. Mary Catherine just finished the first semester of her junior year at Vanderbilt, and will spend her next semester in Paris, studying at Sciences Po (Paris Institute of Political Studies), situated on the Left Bank. Will is half-way through his sophomore year of high school and gets his driver’s license next week. Next year, it will be time to take college road trips with Will. Explaining all of this makes me reflective of how much life is changing. We are at a nexus.
This has been a big year of change for me also. Early last year, I decided (rather, Greg convinced me) to run for a seat on the Vestavia Hills City Council. My role as a community advocate over the past years had begun to take more and more of my time. Our community was desirous of a change–they told me they wanted greater transparency and a voice in their local government. After making my decision to declare my candidacy in early spring, I spent many months making connections, raising money, knocking on doors and developing my campaign platform. Through all of it, I felt God’s leading and the support of my neighbors. On the night of the election, I was stunned to find that my cohorts and I had swept the election—winning all the seats on the council. Except for one returning councilor, every seat was held by a candidate who had never before held public office. Through it all, Greg was a trusted advisor and my biggest cheerleader. I was also fortunate to have a great campaign manager and committee.
Greg continues his involvement in many avenues of service—Boy Scouts, church, the Republican party and his work. He will tell you his greatest accomplishment last year was leading a crew into the backcountry of Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico. While it was one of the hardest experiences of his life (right up there with Air Force basic training), he will also tell you it was one of the most rewarding. I was proud of Will and Greg for completing the trek, hiking more than 100 miles, climbing more than 5 miles in elevation and carrying everything they needed for 12 days in a backpack. It was a lesson in teamwork, leadership and independence—something neither Greg nor Will can ever forget.
This Christmas, we are traveling to Steamboat Springs for some skiing over Christmas. With Geoffrey living so far away, it seemed the best opportunity to spend some family time together in the mountains and snow before we send Mary Catherine off on a plane to France. In a sense, we are “skipping Christmas” because we are trying something new. In another sense, we are holding onto the experiences of worship and family time that are most meaningful.
Whether your family is in transition, has experienced a change or loss or is in the “sweet spot” of building your nuclear family, we wish you joy. In the midst of any change, God is constant and his son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior. Take comfort, regardless of your circumstances, and be grateful.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” [I Thess. 5:14-16]
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” [John 1:5]