I’ve been thinking about family this Christmas. It’s a bit hard not to! I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard ‘Christmas is about family’. From church on Christmas morning to Christmas Eve Carols from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, it has seemed to be the refrain of the season.
Culturally, Christmas is a time when we get together as family. It’s part of the festivities and celebration around Christmas. Families are a gift from God and it’s right to celebrate them. We do it as extended family, but the nuclear family features pretty strongly too. You could even see its roots in the nativity story: the special baby in his mother’s arms, with Joseph protectively hovering nearby.
But there’s more to the nativity picture than the family, isn’t there? For a start, there are the shepherds, called from their lonely existence on a dirty hillside to be included in the angels’ celebration. And there are the wise men, miles from home, venturing afar to be included in the momentous event. Think even of the people Luke starts the Christmas story with: a barren, old couple.
Where are they in our celebration of family at Christmas time?
Someone said to me today, “I feel most lonely at Christmas with all the talk about family.” I suspect this is the case for many of us: those who are single by circumstance; old or abandoned; or struggling with infertility.
My Nanny comes from Sydney to spend Christmas with us every year. She’s not a very pleasant person to be around: she complains and criticizes; she’s demanding; she has no insight into how her actions affect others. Partly we have her because she’s family. But one of the great things about having her around at Christmas is that it means we’re constantly thinking about how to accept, include and love her as Jesus would.
Last year, we had 3 international students comes to spend Christmas with us. It was an intrusion in one sense. They didn’t ‘belong’ in our family culture; we had to speak slower; and explain things more. Plus, my Nanny’s just a teensy bit racist so we were all on edge to dispel her offensive comments! But I can’t help feeling it reflected more of the inclusion we see of all nations in the nativity.
My friend said the way she thinks about it is that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus, who will always be more important to her than having her own family. This is the centre of Christmas: not ‘celebrating Jesus as family’ but, celebrating Jesus. And because of who Jesus is, I think that’s got to mean going broader than just ‘family’.
What ideas do you have for including the shepherds, wise men, and Elizabeth and Zechariah in your Christmas celebrations?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.