Tag Archives: Christmas traditions

traditions: Christmas bells

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people…Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Bells have always reminded me of joy. 2aa7fd1d87d841b0b84a639a4a6f055d

Each Christmas, I hang a set on my front door, a wreath full of them on another door, some on my tree and a sole bell in my purse (that one stays there all year round). Not to mention the memories flashing through my mind each time I hear the bells toll for the Salvation Army.

Plus, I love the sound…the sound of Christmas coming and the anticipation it brings.

Historically and biblically, God had originally instructed the Israelites to put bells on the robe of the High Priest’s ephod before he entered into the Holy of Holies (Exodus 28.31-35; 39.36). Matthew Henry, an English bible commentator, interpreted those same bells as an allegory that “typify the sound of the gospel of Christ in the world, giving notice of His entrance within the veil for us.”

Bells have become an integral part of our Christmas traditions. They hang everywhere – from street corners to store entrances, wreathes and not to mention, the Salvation Army bell ringers that start ringing the day after Thanksgiving each year.

Throughout history, bells have been used to celebrate special occasion. Their bright and cheerful sound was a reminder that something important was happening.

In many village throughout the world, people would ring the church bell on special occasions.

Bells announced the coming or arrival of an event.

They toll for good times

887823cb6b70f9918b440c7572a09686They were rung during Christmas to announce the arrival of the season and to proclaim the birth of Christ.

There are even several songs that have been written in honor of bells: “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” “Carol of the Bells” (my personal favorite – to play anyway), and more.

What do the Christmas bells remind you of?

traditions: goodie bags and the gingerbread gospel

2749c40ef0109887d41f0ee9930f7839Did you know that today is National Gingerbread House Day? It’s true. Look it up.

Decorated gingerbread houses started in Germany in the early 1800s. According to my research, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm’s fairytale Hansel and Gretel, in which two children, abandoned in the forest, find an edible witch’s house made of bread and sugar decorations…you know how it goes. After the book was published in 1812, German bakers began creating these ornamental fairytale houses of “lebkuchen,” which is German for “gingerbread.”

Before long, these little houses became popular during the Christmas season and a new tradition had begun.

All things gingerbread sure haven’t changed much in the years since its deluctible beginnings in Germany. Immigrants brought the cookie delights to American when they came here and markets all around the world still sell decorated gingerbreads houses and villages.

Few have even taken it further:

  • In Bergen, Norway, people and children get to create a gingerbread city each year. The tradition began in 1991 and is today, the largest gingerbread city in the world…small scale, of course.

    gingerbread city

  • Just this year, a group in Bryan, TX broke the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread house by creating an edible – you read that right: edible! – 2,520-square-foot gingerbread house to aid a local hospital. Believe it or not, this record was previously owned by the Mall of America.
  • There are Gingerbread House Competitions held all over the world each year.
  • The list goes on.

In years past, my church group has held our own miniature version of a gingerbread house competition – see photos:

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Granted, we used graham crackers instead, but fun, right?

I personally am not a huge fan of gingerbread, but I do enjoy baking and creating treats each year. Over Thanksgiving weekend (Black Friday), I opt to kick-off my annual holiday bake-off, which I started three years ago. During that time, I make anywhere from 12-32 dozen cookies and 4-5 lbs. of fudge. All of them are made with butter and sugar substitutes, making them less in fat and lighter in sugar content (not to mention calories).

I rarely keep any of those treats for myself. I used to, three years ago, before I decided to start leading a healthier life. I may not eat as many sweets as used to, but I do allow myself the smaller-portioned amount at each holiday festivity I attend. Note small.

Instead, I share what I make with the people in my life – my friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family. In a way, sharing these treats connects to sharing the love of Christ with those around me. I don’t expect anything in return – I share and give because I want to. And with that, I’ll leave you with this fun read: The Gingerbread Gospel.

*I’ve tweaked it some as the original was written in a way that children could understand it. Please let your mindset be that of a child while reading through this.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a life-sized gingerbread house? What would your favorite candy house be made out of? What would you use for beds, chairs, pillows, toys? (Best shared with children…hear them out…or better yet, let your own imagination flow).

That would almost seem like the perfect place to live, wouldn’t it? Well, the Bible tells us about a real  live ‘perfect place to live.’ It’s called Heaven. Long ago, that’s where Jesus lived. But God decided to send Jesus from His perfect house in Heaven to Earth (John 6.39).

What was the first house Jesus liked in on Earth – a stable.

What is a stable? A barn.

What would it have looked liked? What would have been in that stable? What would it have smelled like? And Jesus’ first bed was a manger. What is a manger? (Luke 2.1-7)

Was it anything like the perfect place Jesus came from?

[I’m actually remembering the barn I grew up working in…back home….dairy air…or derriere, depending on how you look at it, and I can’t help but wonder, why there?]

Now, why do you think that God would send His own Son from a perfect house in heaven, to a dirty, smelly, cold place like a stable?

Because He loves us very much!

[God wants us] to know Him so He sent [Jesus] to tell you and show you all about God. Jesus did just that. He taught us about God, and the things that He taught are all written down for us in the Bible (John 3.16).

On day, when Jesus was still a young man, He left his home on Earth. He died for all [our sins]. And now He has a new home.

Do you know where that is?

[Within us.]

[He has forgiven us our sins and we’ve been made free! (John 14.15-17)]

Why?

He [has done so] that we can all live with Him forever in that perfect , wonderful place (heaven) (Luke 1.31-33; John 6.38-40; John 14.1-3).

Review the types of houses we’ve talked about: heaven, stable/earth, our hearts, heaven.

[Now, look to the gingerbread house] and remember how much Jesus loves you every time you look at it…remember that Jesus wants to be a part of your life and that He has invited you to live with Him in heaven one day.

© Kelly Hancock, http://faithfulprovisions.com/2009/12/07/the-gingerbread-gospel-2/

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

traditions: gift giving

untitledI have many fond memories of Christmas, in case you haven’t noticed, and this is one of them. When I was a child and didn’t yet earn a paycheck, my parents would take us kids shopping and we’d split up. The guys would go one way and the girls the other and then we’d swap – girls with Dad and boys with Mom. We all got to pick out the special (at the time) gifts we each individually would give each of our immediate family members; and I’ll admit that I enjoyed receiving gifts. Still do, even though the joy of giving outweighs receiving.

That holiday tradition went on until all of us were over the age of five and the gifts were starting to get more expensive (not that baby clothing, toys and Christmas dresses for little girls aren’t expensive). Times were changing. In 1996, we decided to start drawing names with a few other relatives instead and when the farm had a good year, Dad sometimes saw to it that he and Mom got gifts for all four of us kids.

Now that I’m an adult and it’s been nearly 20 years since that change, my holiday shopping consists of gift-exchanging with a few friends, brewing up some holiday goodies to give away – I can’t eat them all!, name drawing, Secret Santa gift exchanges and white elephant holiday parties (the latter can be quite a hoot).

But what does this have to do with Jesus?

Everything

Jesus was the ultimate gift that God could have given us.

He gave Himself

Wrapped in human flesh

Confined to our limitedness

Our finiteness

Death was the only way he could save us.

He could not die as God, but he could as man.

So he gave up his infiniteness and became a baby; a baby who grew in the womb, was fed, clothed, held and cared for…just like you and me.

That baby grew into a man; a man who experienced the same things you and I face each day – temptation, trials, decisions, death, sadness, laughter, scraped knees – and more.  And yet, he was perfect. His life wasn’t ruled by emotion, but based on His Father – on joy, on peace – on a state of being rather than that which is fleeting.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…John 3.16

He gave

Everything

John 3.16 tells us that God loved us – loved you and me – so much that he gave us Jesus. Through Jesus, we can have so much – the gifts are endless. Just look around you!

These are just a few of the gifts God lavishes upon his children and I’m sure, that much like the Christmas mornings of my childhood, He can’t wait for you to open and respond to His gifts:

  • The gift of Love

God loved us so much that he gave of himself to fix what we broke in our relationship with him. The Fall had left a hole so deep and wide that there didn’t seem to be any hope for saving – then Jesus came. The prophecy of the coming Messiah brought hope and anticipation with it until one night, in a sleepy, little town called Bethlehem, Christ came. That love led him to growing up, to his ministry, to the cross and to the resurrection. That love lives today – in you and in me. That Love gives us the ability to love others the way he did and still does…talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. Romans 8.9

  • The gift of Grace

Through Jesus we have access to a wonderful gift called grace – getting what we don’t deserve. Jesus paid the cost of our sin so we could have it.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5.1-2

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow of the many! Romans 5.15 

…in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2.7

Amazing grace
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
but now I’m found
was blind but now I see!

  • The gift of Resurrection

This is one gift worth getting excited about. Just as Jesus was resurrected in his new human form, we too will be resurrected in similar fashion when he returns to take us all home. Without the resurrection of Christ, we have nothing.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15.17

I eagerly wait in anticipation for that day and what a glorious day that will be!

The sing of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15.56-57

Praise be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 1 Peter 1.3

  • The gift of Inheritance

Because of his sacrifice, we too can be heirs in the Kingdom of God. 

…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil of fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1.4

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8.16-17

 The gift of the Gospel

There are no words for this gift, on my part at least, so I’d like to let Timothy Keller do the talking:

The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

…the gospel, however, is that Jesus takes the law of God so seriously that He paid the penalty of disobedience, so we can be saved by sheer grace.

The gospel changes our status… How has your status been changed by the gospel?

Where we once were slaves, we are now free.

Where we once were lost, we are now found.

We have become children of God.

The list goes on…

  • The gift of His Word

The Word, the Bible, never runs out. It’s a book that lives, literally. You can’t go through life reading the same chapter over and over again and expect to get the same results. Passages I read when I was a child impact my life differently now that I’m an adult, even passages I read last year impact me differently today – whether that be due to life circumstances (which always change), my ever-deepening relationship with Jesus or the fact that I’ve grown up and can now understand on a deeper level what the Bible teaches.

Every day, we can find new things in his Word that give us strength and sharpen us, build us up, and even rebuke us. God knew we needed it, so he gave it.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your heart. Colossians 3.16

There’s so much that we have been given through Jesus, the best gift ever! In Christ, we are free – free from the bondage of sin, free from tying ourselves to what does not define us (anything but Him), free to choose life – to choose Him.

How about you? Would you leave gifts unwrapped and laying under the tree? No. Would you leave this gift unwrapped and untouched? Will you choose to accept the gift God offers? What better time to be intentional about your walk with God than now?

The choice is yours:

Freedom

Redemption

Life

Love

© Anita J. Brands. 2013. Website: https://authentictruthseeker.wordpress.com/

traditions: red and green

red-and-green-christmas-baubles-elena-elisseevaAlthough purple has always been my favorite color, I love the deep and rich colors of Christmas: the reds, the greens, the golds, the blues, etc.  For some reason, those deep, rich colors remind me of royalty and when I think of royalty, I think of Jesus.  

How about you? What are you favorite things about the Christmas season?

traditions: trimming the tree

I’ve said it before and have no shame in mentioning it again.

I love Christmas.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to decorate my apartment since I would be away during the holiday 14aa4b07b7c8e786dcf8d175e25282a0weekend and wanted to come home to Christmas. The balcony had been decorated during one of the last 50 degree days of October (early, I know, but that’s what we do in Minnesota).

I hauled out my new tree, last years’ ornaments, the matching, deep-red tree skirt, and other odds and ends. As I was wrapping glittered, net-style ribbon around my little tree, I pondered how they got their start and the connection to Jesus.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him… John 19.17-18

Let’s start with the Christmas tree’s history: It’s been said that the Christmas tree has its roots buried in Germany. Ever hear of the term tannenbaum? It’s the German word for Christmas tree. In 1570, a small tree was decorated with what we now consider holiday foods and was set up in the 16th century equivalent of today’s gentleman’s club: a guild-house. Children were allowed to collect those treats (apples, nuts, dates and pretzels) on Christmas Day.

Wax candles were added to the mix in the 18th century and eventually, the tradition spread to other countries.

By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was termed a Christmas tradition. Artificial trees were introduced and they, too originated in Germany.

The connection to Jesus: I think of God’s story…our history.

When you start in the book of Genesis and follow His story to Revelation, there are two trees: The first trees in the garden and the tree where Jesus gave his life.

Trees are a symbol of strength, growth, prosperity, intimacy, life and death. They provide context for both the sorrow and hope of mankind. A tree is at the center of our fall into sin and is also at the center of our salvation.

God created us in his image; to commune with him through an eternal life of worship. This life was embodied in the Tree of Life in the midst of Eden. And it was through the abuse of another, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that Adam and Eve were separated from the Tree of Life; from God himself. Hope seemed lost forever.

But God, in his great mercy and grace, offered another way through his Son at Calvary.

At Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We celebrate our hope.

His story climaxes on the tree at Golgotha; on the cross.

That last tree, the cross, was a far cry from the one gracing my living room. That first tree wasn’t a beautiful evergreen found among many on a tree farm or in the woods. It was a piece of rough-hewn wood with no natural beauty and its sole purpose was to bring misery and pain and eventually death. Its only beauty was in the purpose for which God intended in using it: to restore our relationship with him.

Instead of being decorated with white lights and ornaments from my childhood, the Light of the World hung upon its limbs, his body beaten and bruised by those responsible for his punishment.

There was no tree skirt or fake snow beneath this tree. Instead, the ground was stained crimson red by the blood shed for the sins of the world.

We share stories of Christmases past, sing Christmas carols and joyful laughter around our trees today. Those who did so then were hurling insults and mocked the Son of God – Emanuel – God with us. He was shown no mercy and yet, chose to show us mercy.

Remember those gifts tied to the branches of the first originating “Christmas trees”? This may very well be the only similarity between our tree and the tree on which my Savior died. The greatest gift of all was “tied” to the branches of the tree on Golgotha. There he died and paid the penalty for not my sin, but the sins of the entire world. There, he gave a gift, a free gift, so unlike those we give to one another and this gift is still active, alive and available today.

My tree is placed in a prominent position in my living room: right in front of the giant glass patio doors for the world (well, my little world anyway) to see. Just as my tree has that vantage point, I have to make that same choice to have the cross placed in a prominent position in my life and in my heart. Does the world see him through the way I live? Through my actions? Through my words? Do they?

I challenge you to look beyond the tree gracing your home, if you have one, and see the tree on which Jesus gave his life – for you and for me.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift. 2 Corinthians 9.15