A Very Ministry Christmas
By Greg Asimakoupoulos
Ever since I can remember, Christmas has been my favorite holiday. In fact, when I was younger, my favorite carol wasn’t even a carol. It was Andy Williams’ version of “It’s the Most Wonderful time of the Year.” For me, that song said it all.
When I got into ministry, I continued my love affair with the month of December. For my children, however, it was another story. Having a pastor for a father meant that Dad had to be away from home more than other dads. And though I really grooved on the liturgical life of the body of Christ at Christmas, they were not as impressed. It wasn’t long before my daughters began to resent December’s annual rhythm, since church activities affected our ability to celebrate Christmas the way most people did.
They had a point. While other families took extended vacations to visit far-flung relatives, we stayed behind to lead Christmas Eve services and the occasional Christmas morning service, denying our kids the kind of holiday they thought was normal. A few times we caught a red-eye flight or drove for hours after Christmas Eve obligations, arriving half-spent to open presents with grandparents on Christmas morning.
Once, when Christmas fell on Sunday, I agreed to preach for the Korean church that met in our facility, which meant my wife and kids had to wait until midafternoon to open gifts. I was not greeted with a rousing chorus of “Joy to the World” when I finally arrived home.
Who Are You, and What Did You Do With My Dad?
Our girls always knew who Santa Claus was – Daddy. But it took much longer to convince them that I was not the Grinch who stole Christmas. That I bore little resemblance to the green guy in their Dr. Seuss book was beside the point. They just knew that church was taking their father from them and robbing them of a full-fledged festival.
Rather than try to persuade them to accept the unique role and privilege of being part of a ministry family, my wife, Wendy, and I took our girls’ feelings to heart. Thus began our celebration of Christmas, which lasts the entire month of December and into January. And the result has been most rewarding. Our daughters agree: The special traditions we have created more than compensate for what they can’t do with their friends or the nights they have to be at home without their dad.
- Beginning Dec. 1, our daughters take turns each day putting an ornament on the Advent tree. We also arrange our Nativity set on the piano in the living room – sans the wise men, who instead begin their “journey” from a far corner of the house and move a little each day in the direction of the crèche (courtesy of my wife). The girls get a kick out of the traveling Magi.
- On Dec. 6, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day and remember the Christian patriarch whose real-life story sparked the mythical figure of Santa Claus.
- Our church had Swedish roots, so we also celebrate Santa Lucia Day (Dec. 13). To re-enact this story of a young European girl who was persecuted for her faith in the Middle Ages, Wendy, wearing a traditional candle wreath in her hair, rises early and serves each of us breakfast in bed while singing words I’ve written to the old Italian melody “Santa Lucia.”
- During the month, each of us puts action to the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill to men” by giving every member in our family a $5 gift purchased form a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store. It’s great fun, and our kids know that the money they spend in these stores goes to help needy people.
- Because much of Christmas Eve is spent getting ready for services that night, we get up early and go out for breakfast at an especially nice restaurant (which is surprisingly affordable). We even ask the waitress to take our picture, which we include in a photo album just for these snapshots. Then the girls and I put a red rubber ball, Rudolph-style, on the hood of our minivan and deliver baskets of homemade baked goodies to our neighbors and those we know with special needs. Our youngest jingles sleigh bells at the door instead of ringing the doorbell.
- Perhaps our most special tradition is our celebration of Jan. 6, the Day of the Kings (Epiphany). That morning, our breakfast table is graced with five quilted crowns. (The first year we spray painted Burger King crowns gold.) Inside each are three small stocking-stuffer gifts. After eating together, we read the story of the wise men from the Bible, sing Epiphany carols (including “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which documents the history of a 12-day, post Christmas celebration that culminates on Epiphany) and discover that the wise men have finally joined the Nativity scene on the piano, thanks again to Wendy. Oh, and yes, we take turns opening the gifts.
Our kids still bristle at times when they realize my Christmas responsibilities will prevent our family from giving the same freedom as their friends’ families. But with the traditions we’ve established, they look forward to the holiday as much as I do.
It warms my heart, too, to see how our unique customs have taken root. Last year, after hanging up the phone with a friend from school, my 13-year-old told me with great surprise that Emmy’s family doesn’t put crowns on the breakfast table on Jan. 6. Somehow we thought because our family did, everybody did. Well, not everybody does. But maybe your family will this year.