Much of the warmth and excitement we experience in anticipating our Christmas celebrations comes out of our Christmas traditions. These traditions give us a pretty good idea of what’s in store as this season approaches. So we look forward to the things we know will happen, and we also anticipate some exciting surprises. So grab a mug of hot apple cider, and let’s share some Christmas traditions.

   At my one-room country school in Burwalde, between Winkler and Morden, we always prepared a Christmas program for our community. This involved decorating the building; setting up a stage for the program; learning songs, poems and lines for dramas; and buying and wrapping a present for the teacher and for the student whose name you had drawn. The culmination of this exciting event was coming home after the program with two presents and a bag of peanuts, candy and an orange.

   The Sunday School program usually happened on Christmas Eve. The Sunday School superintendent always read Luke’s version of the Christmas story from the King James Version of the Bible. The program usually included a nativity pageant, and one year when I was already a teenager, it was my turn to be Joseph. My father and I had spent the day working in the hog barn, and despite having had a bath before the program, I was convinced that everyone could smell the hog barn on me.

   After the Christmas Eve program, our family always went to the home of my three single aunts (who were also our surrogate grandmothers on our mother’s side of the family), where we exchanged gifts and enjoyed Christmas oranges, candy and other goodies. Often we would be joined by additional uncles, aunts and cousins.

   In the home where I grew up, the Christmas tree was integral to creating a festive environment. Given the fact that we were a family of five in a house with two rooms on the main floor and two rooms on the second floor, it seems remarkable in retrospect that we found room for a full-sized Christmas tree.

   Usually there were no presents under the tree until Christmas Day, which added considerable excitement to our anticipation. When my siblings and I came down from our bedrooms on Christmas morning, we would find the living-room door closed, because many of our gifts were not wrapped.

   Since we lived on a farm and the animals were our livelihood, they had to be fed and cared for before any gifts were revealed. To make matters worse, we also had to eat breakfast while the living-room door remained closed. So we were kept in great suspense until the door was finally opened and we were allowed to rush in and claim our gifts. Usually it was quite clear which gifts belonged to me, since both of my siblings were girls.

   On one of the days following Christmas we would have a family gathering at the home of our grandparents on our father’s side of the family. There we knew we would get more presents and another treat bag, enjoy a great meal, and have the opportunity to play with cousins who lived in other communities. There were usually two disappointments related to this particular event. First, the cousins who were around my age were all girls, so what was a young boy to do? Secondly, our grandparents, uncles and aunts all insisted we recite and sing the parts we had memorized for one of our Christmas programs. This little ad-hoc program always preceded the distribution of presents in order to ensure that we would be willing performers.

   With the passage of time and generations, some family traditions have continued, but we have also created new ones. It seems that Christmas traditions may be a little more flexible today than they were in the past. If that flexibility still enables us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as our entrenched traditions did in the past, then all is well.

Village Books and Gifts store hours:

-   December 19: 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

-   Monday through Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

December 24: Open until noon (Then closed till January 11)

About the Author

Gary is responsible for the overall management of MHV. Guiding the staff, informing the board, and networking with officials, volunteers, corporate sponsors, individual donors and other guests. He has a business diploma and a MA in Global Studies from Providence Theological Seminary. With his family he did humanitarian work for 18 years in Asia, including being a CEO of a Compost Enterprise in China. He loves to discuss the Mennonite story and how it is relevant in our world. Learn more about the MHV.

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