Our first Christmas as a married couple, I purposed to immediately begin making family traditions. We filled our tiny one-bedroom apartment with a real Christmas tree cut down from the South Dakota Black Hills and lopped off the top so it would fit inside our living room. We each had an ornament or two from our childhood to hang on our homely tree, but that was about it. We wandered the aisles of Walmart trying to figure out how we wanted to decorate it because, for the first time, it was our decision alone! We could do whatever we wanted with this giant tree that was rapidly losing needles on our rented carpet.
Around that time, I heard a brief spot on the radio that talked about thoughtfully curating your decorations to tell a story of God’s faithfulness to your family, and an idea blossomed. I decided to look for at least one ornament to put on the tree that would remind us of an event of significance from that particular year. God’s hand is intricately involved in every facet of our lives, but often we chalk circumstances up to simply ‘life’ or even luck. To consciously say, “That was God working in our family!” is a way to visibly trace God’s faithfulness. Be it the purchase of a new home, the birth of a baby, the provision of a new job, or even a family vacation, God has His hands through it all. Acknowledging his hand with these simple, tangible reminders has become a treasured tradition for our family.
Being the creative people we are, our first ornament said “Our First Christmas Together” with the date and cute little bears in a snowy sleigh. Two years later, we were a tad more creative when we added the fluffy snowman representing our last Christmas before moving to South America as missionaries. We happily named him “Fred” after the light-up snowman of the same name that we had to sell as we prepared to move overseas.
We have an almost identical snowman, except this one’s in full Peruvian regalia to remind us of our first year as missionaries in Peru. There was no snow, no family, no pumpkin pie that year. Yet, we came to realize we didn’t need all the usual signs of Christmas around us. We shifted our focus to celebrating Jesus’ birth and that was enough.
There’s the ornament from the year we were on furlough and had no money so I decided to be crafty (which I’m not). This was also our first year as parents, so I purchased three acrylic snowmen, painted them, and put all of our initials on them. These are the only homemade-by-mommy ornaments on our tree!
My kids’ favorite is a little puppy that barks and says “Merry Christmas” when you push his tummy. It reminds us of the year we were nomads, not exactly sure why we’d just left the current mission field and having no idea where we were going next. The ornament was in a grab bag given to us at a family Christmas party. The irony is that it wasn’t even our family’s Christmas party! They were simply gracious hosts that made us feel welcome.
Our desire is for our children to see Jesus all throughout the Christmas season. We want them anxiously counting down to the arrival of Jesus’ birthday, not just a day of presents and Santa. We want them to see that God was not only faithful to all of humanity by sending Jesus as He’d promised; He has been faithful specifically to our family, by providing homes, friends, vacations, and siblings. Even just this week, our seven year old took the time to share stories of our family ornaments with friends who came to visit. The little ornaments on our fake tree that do more than decorate; they proclaim, “God is good! God is faithful!”
Twelve years in, our tree is not only filled with ornaments; it’s filled with memories. My three children are beginning to understand that tree-decorating is not just a time to slap ornaments on a fake tree; it’s a time for us to reminisce and tell stories. I feel like an Israelite mother, using ornaments instead of stones to recount stories of all God has done in our lives. I have the privilege of telling our children the meaning behind each ornament we hang. I want them to hear the story of God’s faithfulness to our family through the years. The family tree has morphed into a tree filled with history. Additionally, each child gets one ornament per year to remind them of different milestones in their own lives.
The simplicity of our tradition is what I love the most. There are no strict guidelines to what we do. Some years, the ornaments are gifts; others are Amazon purchases. Some are well planned out; others are last-minute craft store buys! The point is not to have a fancy, coordinated tree. The point is to have a tree that points us, and in particular our children, to Jesus. His faithfulness is year-round, not just on the holiday itself. As we hang each ornament on our tree, we proclaim to our children that we are loved, we are not forgotten, and God is faithful each and every year.
Lisa Biegert is a wife, mom of 3, full-time missionary and journalist with BCM International, and children’s ministry director. She finds her greatest delight in sharing Jesus with children. Lisa and her husband, Brian, live and serve fellow missionaries at a missionary housing facilityoutside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. You can follow their family ministry at www.brianlisabiegert.wordpress.com, read Lisa’s personal blog at www.thetaskathand.wordpress.com, and discover more about BCM’s global ministry in the BCM World magazine. Connect with her via Instagram and Facebook.