Christmas / New Year #1: Christmas Traditions

IMG_8766

This Christmas/New Year holiday time has been filled with activities revolving around visiting family. It is for this very reason that new content has not been posted recently. I do however want to post this quick message to wrap up 2014 and provide a Christmas-related topic, in response to the recent sermon in heard at church on Looking Back, Moving Forward. As always – thanks for reading and following.

Christmas / New Year Mini-Series:

  1. Christmas Traditions (this article)
  2. Highlights from 2014
  3. God’s Perspective of Time

This year, with family visiting and staying with us from interstate provided additional meaning and purpose to my holidays. Knowing that our time together was limited made us approach each day with a relaxed purpose and intent. Compared to other recent Christmas holidays, staying in Melbourne had not coincided with visiting family. As a result I would say we have done a lot in the short time together.

Celebrating Christmas in my family has always come jam-packed with tradition. During the Sunday after Christmas during the church sermon, the congregation was asked to share amongst ourselves these traditions. For me Christmas has and will always be about family. In contrast, and the topic of the next post within this mini-series, New Year celebrations are friend-focused.

28 years ago this Christmas my mum lost her 1+ year battle with cancer. She died on Christmas Day 1986. Ever since, Christmas has been an annual time of year to visit her cremated remains at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery aka The Necropolis. This tradition has remained largely unchanged except for the exact day/time of visit. Purchasing a bouquet of flowers happens around Christmas Eve although in early years I remember we would pick up flowers on the way to the cemetery on Christmas Day itself. In previous years, as part of another separate tradition, some family members would also joined us in making the “pilgrimage”. We bring gardening tools so that we can give the plaque a quick clean, cut the flower stems to size, and finally wash it all with a bottle of water. In this routine, we now have a “kit” that we prepare that make this tradition well-defined.

When considering this tradition, it can be summarised as a death anniversary celebration. This recent visit made me think and reconsider what the Bible has to say about this kind of tradition and in particular the minute silence that is the absolute pinnacle moment of it. Similar to the weekly communion practice – this is the one time of absolute focus and devotion to the person – my mum or Christ. Growing up I would spend the minute silence and have a literal conversation with her inside my head – telling her about my year and complaining about various childhood injustices… This year, my thoughts were very much focused in terms of “these are the cremated remains of a physical body” and “her soul is now with God; I have already asked to see her earlier this year during my visit to heaven/encounter with God”. Taking the time once a year to perform this ritual/tradition is nice but I can reflect and celebrate the life of my mum every day just as we do so with our relationship with God.

Christmas traditions change and adapt over time. For a very long time it was tradition that whilst we hosted a Christmas Eve dinner my uncle and aunt would then host the big Christmas Dinner (lunch) complete with turkey, ham and veggies. However, in the last five years this tradition has morphed because my uncle and aunt no longer host the Christmas Dinner. Instead, I have taken on that role and Christmas Eve has been freed up. This has allowed my brother to now attend the Carols by Candlelight production at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and I plan to also attend next year – the birth perhaps of a new tradition? This year, we had the television set on as we relaxed and chatted. One previous year, when I also had committed to serving in my church’s Christmas Choir, I had spent Christmas Eve preparing and cutting up all the vegetables to save cooking time on the Christmas morning. That year, the church Christmas Day service was held at 9 am, which enabled me to leave immediately after to return home and start cooking before 11 am, with food ready by 1:30 pm.

Christmas Dinner is always a traditional western meal. I look forward to the turkey, which is outsourced to our local chicken bar as well as the ham. 2014 Christmas Dinner is my third run at cooking the meal so I fully appreciate the amount of effort required to pulling it off: preparing all the potatoes, carrots and pumpkin for roasting, boiling peas, corn and capsicum, and baking the cheese cauliflower dish. The biggest challenge I find is working with the oven; this is the one day of the year when it gets pushed to its limit and nowadays it’s inefficiency is apparent – particularly with handling all the trays of food. Based on the longer cooking times, a future adaptation to the roast vegetables will be to blanch them first so that the oven roasting time is sped up. This year I steamed a Christmas pudding as a first – and it worked out extremely well!

As part of delivering the traditional Christmas Dinner, bon-bons feature at the dinner table. Over the years I have made the effort to procure good quality bon-bons so that the little gift inside is not some gimmicky item. This year’s bon-bons were top-notch, with the items inside including a mini deck of playing cards, an actual usable nail clipper, fold-able comb, bookmark, etc… The jokes were also of a respectable quality unlike the variant which tends to come across as tacky and like a “dad joke”. At $40 for 12, I felt that this was a worthwhile expense towards the Christmas tradition and environment.

Another tradition includes having a designated time after the eating for swapping and unwrapping presents. This We do not strictly enforce a protocol of order of giving presents – it all ends up becoming one big unwrapping frenzy. The Christmas decorations are also put up in mid December – the fibre optic tree this year had a simple baubles-only theme and the rest of the lounge had a minimalistic decor this year compared to previous years. This was intentional because of the need to baby-proof the place. This was a slight challenge that did not materialize – instead of going for the presents under the tree, he was constantly attracted to the shiny baubles and glowing fibre optic branch ends.

Another tradition relates to annual Christmas visits made to family friends. My God-parents, in particular my Godmother has quite a few Christmas traditions, which have influenced me over the years. She maintains a Christmas Book where memories and photos are recorded. Over the years she receives very beautiful Christmas cards from family and friends around the world – over the last five years (thereabouts) I have made a concerted effort to “compete” in the competition that plays out for the most beautiful card that gains recognition and mention in the Christmas Book.

Card giving remains a tradition that I still practice, even if it is on a smaller scale than previous years, For Christmas 2014, we were more diligent and efficient – spending a single evening on Friday 19 December getting all cards ready for mailing. In previous years we were more reactive in getting our cards sent out after having received the cards first. This year, the timing of our outgoing cards was very similar to the incoming deliveries. Within this practice of card giving, there remains this routine that for every card giver from the previous year, we ensure a card is issued out for the current year. Further, there remains a tradition that began with my mother and my birth. When I was born, my mother shared a ward with another lady who also gave birth at the same time – thus there is a girl who I share a birthday with. The two mothers began swapping Christmas cards every year, providing a short review of the year past. After my mum passed away, my Dad has continued to honour this practice year after year. Whilst we have not met since our respective births, we continue to maintain this annual connection and follow each other’s lives. Whilst the number of cards has slowly whittled down over the years, the number has remained quite stable for the last 3-4 years based on the principle that for every card received, we return the effort by reciprocating and sending back a card of our own. Another emerging aspect to the card giving tradition is that whilst this number has remained stable – it reflects cards sent out by both my Dad and I, I have also started to send out cards myself to various dear brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, the tradition continues to evolve and even bear new meaning in this modern time.

Electronic greetings are closely related to card giving. For various friends and family the content previously contained within the card is now communicated electronically via email. I spent some time helping my Dad to design from scratch in PowerPoint a Christmas card where the design for 2014 made use of a feature photo. Where the greeting was issued solely by my dad, the photo was appropriately customised to himself, whereas a Christmas greeting from the two of us included a photo of both of us. This year, given the busy-ness of spending Christmas Day itself with visiting family, I only got around to issuing out the electronic greeting via a personalised WhatsApp message on Boxing Day. (I undertook the same effort on New Years Day for that occasion.)

As seen in these various traditions, Christmas is a time for me based on a combination of old and new habits. The important point to be made here is that our family traditions are not set in stone; over the years they have evolved with time and practicality, to ensure freshness and relevance.

The true meaning of Christmas is in the birth of Jesus as our Saviour, the Messiah. Jesus is the reason for the season – it is because of God’s act of love in sending His Son that we can share and show love to one another. Jesus gives us hope and truth; He is the Way and source of meaning this and every Christmas. In closing out this Christmas post, I want to share the following thought/topic which I was inspired to discover for myself during this Christmas period – Jesus is the English Anglicised version of Yeshua, which is the original Aramaic. The following is a summary of a much longer and detailed explanation of how “Yeshua” became “Jesus”.

Yeshua to Jesus
Language Transliteration Pronunciation
Hebrew/Aramaic Ye-shu-a yay-shoo-ah
Greek Ie-s-ous ee-ay-sous
Latin Ie-s-us ee-ay-sous
English Je-s-us gee-sus

Even if we pronounce His name differently according to our local culture/language, God knows our hearts – that we call upon His name – Isa (ee-sa) in Arabic, Yesu (ye-sou) in Chinese, as examples of other languages.

Often, we see the identity of our Lord as “Jesus Christ” – it should be observed that “Christ” was originally not His name, but title. The Anglicisation here is from the Greek root word – “Khristos” which means “anointed one”. “Christ” is a translation of the Hebrew word “mashiakh” or Aramaic “mshikha”. Thus, “Christ” is the Anglicisation of a Greek word, whereas the more purist English direct translation from the original Aramaic/Hebrew is… “Messiah”! Messiah shares the same meaning of “anointed one”, and other synonyms include “saviour”. Over time, however, the common use of “Jesus Christ” in reference to the Son of God means that people nowadays think of the combination as a name only… So, when you put the two together, the Hebrew reference becomes “Yeshua Mashiakh”, or Jesus the Messiah.