It started out innocently enough. One year, before Chuck and I had kids or much money to spend, we decided to forego our gift exchange and wait until the after-Christmas sales to purchase a small stereo system we were wanting for our home. Due to my job, we couldn’t travel to see extended family but with our Christmas day free, we decided to visit Chuck’s Great-Aunt Myrtie who lived in a nursing home across town. Not only did we have a delightful and relaxed Christmas that year, we discovered it was a blessing to give of our time on Christmas day.
That first year we were able to spend time with Aunt Myrtie who was a great prayer warrior and always an encouragement to us. We were able to also greet and chat with others in her nursing home who didn’t always have visitors on Christmas. As believers young in our faith, the Lord used this experience to open our eyes that He could use us to bless others. We also learned that we would be greatly blessed. We were hooked. That year we decided we would do this again, every year.
And we did. We would get up early on Christmas morning and read the Christmas story. We would light our advent candles and then we would head out to visit! As our children came along we engaged them in the process. We also became a big hit at the nursing home! People would always light up when they saw little ones and we encouraged our kids to greet each one. As they got older, we would bake cookies to hand out to the residents and the nursing staff. We always attached a verse of Scripture and a Christmas greeting to each packet. We would sing Christmas carols as we went from room to room. Some years we were joined by extended family members and friends who would add instruments and voices to our caroling. We would share the story of Jesus with those we would visit and we would pray for them. We would also be sure to ask them questions and listen to them. We have learned so much from the people we have met through the years. We always come home feeling we have received more than we have given.
Aunt Myrtie lived to see her 102nd Christmas and 2 of our 4 children. We still miss her. After she was gone we continued our tradition of visiting a nursing home or sometimes the hospital if I was working on Christmas day. We also would do most of our shopping after Christmas and usually opened our presents New Year’s Day. It was always a fun week filled with wrapping presents and keeping secrets and days spent together as a family. Our boys never seemed to mind waiting and actually enjoyed getting to see what gifts their friends received on Christmas.
I don’t have room to share all the blessings this one tradition has brought to our family. It was a practical way we could teach and model to our boys how to live out our faith and give to the Lord by giving to others. Christmas is His birthday, after all, so we taught our boys that blessing others was the best birthday gift we could give to Him. Our boys love and honor the aged. They learned how to ask questions, to listen, and to value what these wonderful people had to share. It helped them to think of others and to reach out in spite of shyness. This also led to further ministry to the residents we got to know. In their teen years our boys were part of our church youth group who went monthly to the local nursing home to minister to the residents through Bible teaching and songs. Our son Patrick was the first to get married and couldn’t wait to bring his wife, Renee, along to experience our Christmas. It truly is a highlight of our holiday season each year.
We aren’t able to continue this practice every year now that our children are grown and living in various states and countries, but we still cherish the times we are able to do so, as well as the many wonderful memories we have of so many Christmases past. The spirit of this tradition lives on in my children and their families as they look for ways to reach out to people wherever they are, both in holiday season and out. Such traditions can be a wonderful way to bring depth of meaning to the holidays. They can help us to be intentional in teaching our children to better understand and share their faith. Whatever your traditions and however you celebrate, may you have a truly joyous, Christ-centered Christmas!