Capturing Meaning at Christmas

A couple of weeks ago, we traveled to meet up with my in-laws and family to spend Thanksgiving together. As we were packing up our belongings to leave, my mother–in-law began handing me boxes and bags of items she had picked up over the last few months. As I looked in one of the boxes, I saw two Nutcrackers and began to ask about them. My mother-in-law looked at me and said, “Well, I saw them and I thought you might like to have one for each of the boys this Christmas.” I stood there a little confused, wanting to ask for more details, but I smiled and said thank you.

As the day went on, I sat with my thoughts and questions long enough to realize that I was looking for meaning in the gift that she was handing me. I wanted to know the history behind these 2 items.  Were they an item that had been passed down in the family? Was I getting a precious piece of history to enjoy in my home for years to come? What did she think when she saw these and decided to give them to me?

It was in that moment that I realized something. Tradition can start with me. It does start with me. I have a longing to create meaningful moments and memories that are filled with connection. Christmas feels like a time when traditions spill out of every moment. When do you decorate? What is the first day you will listen to Christmas music? Do you put up a real Christmas tree or a fake one? What do you do when you decorate the tree? Do you have a special mug that you drink coffee or hot chocolate out of all month? Do you decorate cookies? When do you open your first gift? What do you eat on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?  …And on and on and on…

Being the mother of young children, I look for moments to create tradition for our family. I want to try and discover what it is that we will continue year after year. I hope to create tradition and memories that my family will love and carry with them for a lifetime. It is so tempting to try to do everything, tempting to create a “pinteresting” Christmas that others will envy and attempt to recreate. At what cost though?

My boys don’t care about gingerbread houses. They would rather eat the candy than create a house made of it. They are more excited about the popcorn that we eat when we are decorating the tree than the glory that is revealed when the tree is glowing and dressed in beauty. The stockings can’t be hung by the chimney with care because my toddler finds them to be more entertaining than any toy you could buy him. Every year, something changes. The ages of these little boys changes and Christmas feels either more complicated or simpler. Some days, I sit back, almost as if I am waiting for life to happen and other days I realize that this is my life. This year, I have chosen simplicity. I have realized that there will not be space for some of my decorations this year. Some of the traditions that I have started will not be able to happen this year due to finances or other circumstances. Sometimes I wonder if I am giving in, giving up, but then I remember that I am the mother of young children and Christmas is definitely not the time to be in control, managing chaos, angry and uptight (not that there is ever a good time for that!)

Christmas is the time to celebrate Christ. We do that in ways that are unique for our family and this creates tradition. Tradition is a beautiful thing that can grow and change and often times starts with someone who is willing to dream and hope while creating beauty. This year, I have decided that my story is worth telling. I don’t have to only tell the stories that began generations before me. I can tell the stories that are happening here, today. How will I do that, you ask? Journaling. My story, my desires, my Christmas traditions deserve words even if they change over the years – words, written down, for generations to read someday when I am gone. Someday, my family will want to know where their traditions originated from, and I hope to record the emotions and thoughts that started the traditions that my family will carry on.

So, I am out to find my journal and I think it will start something like this:

December 13, 2013

We got hit by a stomach bug the weekend after Thanksgiving this year which is the weekend that we would usually decorate for Christmas. We finally put together our fake Christmas tree this week but we haven’t had time to put on the ornaments. The night we started to decorate the tree Sawyer began to pull on and reach for every light and ornament, so we stopped. Wyatt and Sawyer had a blast eating chocolate covered popcorn and playing in the box that the tree came in…


Bethany Cabell is a Texas transplant, residing in Michigan with her husband and their two young boys.  A lover of beauty, she lives life chasing after wide-open spaces: sharing her heart with others, in relationship with Jesus, and through music and photography. She tells her story here.