More Than Serving Tea


Our Christmas Stories

It’s December 3, and it’s 61 degrees in the northern burbs of Chicago. I have the urge to empty the compost bin and start planting carrot seeds and dreaming about tomatoes. But it’s December. Surely the ground will eventually freeze, and everything that triggers my seasonal allergies will die. Right?

It doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. I grew up in Chicagoland, which means it should be cold. Freezing cold. I should be able to use my walk-in freezer – my garage. I should be able to see my breath in the air, and I should be wearing my winter coat, mittens, hat and scarf. I feel like I’m in SoCal, my fake Uggs daring my feet to combine spring and winter into one.

Instead, we spent last night summoning all of our Christmas anticipation and decorated our Christmas tree. Through the years, Peter and I have tried to build in some traditions into our Christmas as part of our family’s story – the things, the smells, the tastes that will last beyond the five of us decorating a tree. Our ornaments have become one of my favorite parts.

The fake tree was fully decorated when Peter and I bought it from Menards. I didn’t come with a box but it came loaded with lights, glass globe ornaments and other sparkly, shiny things. As the years have passed, some faster than others, fewer glass globes make their way onto the tree, replaced by preschool creations, school photos placed into frames, ornaments based on family members’ favorite things, and now two mini trees with ornaments collected from places we have visited as a family.

We will hear and probably say over and over how commercialized this sacred season has become, and it’s true. When Christmas music and decorations of red and green get up in Halloween’s orange and black, and Black Friday takes over Thanksgiving night, it’s enough to do….what?

I’m certain my oldest’s journey towards college is making this mommy a bit sentimental, but it was a sight to see when each child (including me and Peter) unpacked each ornament and shared a sentence or two about their fondest memories and helped piece together our Christmas story.

For me, the tradition I most remember is going to church Christmas Eve where the Korean Santa came to give each kid a gift based on Sunday School class. We would head home late in the night, my parents transferring us from the car to our rooms. And then we would wake up to presents that the Korean Santa would leave under our tree. I remember the just-my-size African American Barbie. The Barbie Dream House and furniture. The flannel sheets.

Our kids don’t remember seeing a Korean Santa, but they did. Instead, I hope they will remember the bits and pieces of memory each ornament carries, because, as I tell them every year, when they move out and have a place of their own and a tree of their own my housewarming gift will be “their” ornaments wrapped with the love and expectation only a savior can bring to cover their trees and lives (“…while my tree stands all naked and lonely,” I tell them each year).

What traditions have you continued from your childhood or built new into your family?


Halloween, Christmas, Yoga & Jesus

In about one hour my neighborhood will feel more like a neighborhood – kids running around, some with parents a few steps behind to exchange friendly greetings with those they share a street or zip code with. The streets here are safe, just like I remember my streets on the north side of Chicago were some 35 years ago. Halloween was and still is one of the few times during the year it is completely acceptable to ring a stranger’s doorbell and say “hello” (of course, unless you are a Girl Scout selling cookies).

I grew up learning with my parents about these “American” traditions – begging for candy, selling cookies, baking Christmas cookies, hiding Easter eggs. It was more about being and becoming American and not so much about whether or not these were acceptable Christian practices.

But in the past few months there has been a bit of chatter around whether or not Christians should practice yoga because of its Eastern religious roots and how “those” values and beliefs are dangerous and in complete opposition to Christians and our faith.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up practicing so many things that were rooted in those scary Eastern traditions that I am trying to make sense of the fuss while I stretch out in downward dog and breathe in deeply. I bow to my parents and elders of the family every New Year’s Day. Yes, the actual practice has Eastern roots (btw, can someone help me understand why Christians should fear the East? Aren’t our religious roots deep in the East?) but through immigration, many Christian Korean Americans cling to the practice as a way of redeeming culture and our value for respecting our elders – for the cloud of witnesses who have and continue to go before us.

It seems that so much of what we Western Christians practice as “Christian” – Christmas trees in December and Easter eggs, for example – were created in response and reaction to things going on in the pagan world. Yoga isn’t in the Bible but trees and egg hunts aren’t either so how is it that we decide some rituals and practices are ok and not scary? Yes, oversimplified question to a complex situation. I know. But it’s a start, right?

Our children (even the teenager) will dress up this afternoon and run through neighbors’ yards and collect enough candy to frighten (or delight?) my dentist husband. We choose to participate in what has become a fairly benign cultural practice because it’s a great excuse to spend time with friends and neighbors with busy lives and schedules. We have decided that the darker roots of this day are a chance to bring out into the open the things that we might be afraid of but do not have to be. I read somewhere that Halloween is Satan’s favorite holiday. I beg to differ. I think the way we American Christians celebrate Christmas might make Christmas Satan’s favorite holiday, IMO.

I’m off to a friend’s Halloween potluck party, just weeks away from unpacking the Christmas tree ornaments and decorations, hoping to manage my time well to practice yoga and spend time meditating on Jesus…Do you and yours “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? What other holidays have been tweeked and adjusted to be in harmony with your family’s core beliefs?



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