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EARLEY: Hot chocolate with marshmallows

By Al Earley
Contributing columnist

I was around eight years old and couldn’t wait for Christmas.  I knew it was critical that I put together the perfect Christmas list because we were going to see Santa.  I didn’t actually believe in Santa, but my mom wasn’t quite sure, and I knew she’d be listening in for my favorite gifts, so this was a big moment.  I happened to look on the book shelf, something I never did, and spotted the Sears catalogue.  As I pulled it off the shelf I knew I’d found the gold mine of Christmas gift ideas.

As I opened the catalogue everything my mother was buying me for Christmas was circled, listed, and highlighted.  I got so excited.  She had done really well.  And then she walked into the room.  I was caught.  She was mad.  I was innocent.  She was still mad.  “You are not getting any of those gifts this Christmas!”, she declared.  I was heartbroken.  I don’t remember what gifts I got that year, I just know all of them were great.  They always were.  My mom knew how to make sure each of the Earley kids always had a great Christmas.

I was around six years old when my parents recommitted their lives to Jesus Christ.  After that a lot of things changed.  I don’t actually remember any changes.  I just know that my parents integrated their faith into our family thoroughly.  We never missed Sunday church.  We prayed at family meals and at bed time.  We did service projects for others in need whenever we could.  We were always the last ones to leave Fellowship Hall at the end of each Sunday morning.

One of the most important Christian traditions my parents taught me was a spiritually powerful way to celebrate Christmas Eve.  Mom would make up some hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Dad would get the Bible, a Bible story book, a copy of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and the song book with Christmas carols.   We would gather around the Christmas tree and the tradition began by singing carols.  We would sing a lot of them.  We would read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  Then we would take turns reading all the birth stories from the Bible and the story book.  Then we would have a family prayer, where everyone would pray for something we were thankful for.

I don’t remember many of the gifts I have received each Christmas, but I remember this Christmas tradition.  This Christmas Eve tradition has shaped the foundation of what I believe about Christmas and what I believe is important about celebrating Christ’s birth.  The first thing I learned was the gifts were a bonus.  The real gift was Jesus; the greatest gift we have ever been given.  I can’t say I always believed this through my life, but the tradition definitely taught me this, and when I started my family and wanted to share what was meaningful to me with my kids, this is one tradition they experienced from their first Christmas to this day.

The second thing this tradition taught me was how to pray out loud.  My dad seems to always pray well out loud, and is never embarrassed.  My mom did not pray out loud that often, but she always prayed out loud on Christmas Eve.  If both of my parents prayed out loud this night, I figured I should too.  As I’ve grown in prayer through the decades I have become comfortable listening for guidance from Holy Spirit when I pray.  Those early years praying as a family were an important part of teaching me to mature in prayer.

Third, this is a great tradition to share.  I certainly shared it with my children while raising them.  Through the years we have had guests join us for Christmas for different reasons, and sharing this tradition always blesses them with the chance to focus on Jesus, the true meaning of Christmas.  It is said, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but how do we live this out?  I recommend this Christmas Eve tradition to all of my readers if you don’t already have something you do as a family to celebrate the meaning of Christmas.

What are the Christmas traditions that are meaningful to you and your family?  Do you do anything special to focus on Jesus and not on gifts?  Have a merry Christmas and make sure you read the birth stories in Matthew and Luke so you will know truth this Christmas.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see www.lagrangepres.com.