Tag Archives: family traditions

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: from one generation to the next

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 6.6-7 NIV

Being human means that we need events, experiences, and traditions to remind us of what is really important.

My family, both immediate and extended, has kept family traditions all year long, especially during the holidays. There are a few Christmas traditions in my family. Every year, we attend 1-4 holiday parties, each one incredibly different, and that just within my immediate and extended family (not including work, church, etc.)! 

Christmases past consisted of gift-giving and sweet treats. We normally didn’t have a meal and everyone brought sweet treats like Christmas cookies, puppy chow , deviled eggs, and – my personal favorite – Cheelognas.

It’s pronounced like bologna and consists of a combination of Cheese Whiz, onion and, you guessed it, bologna. (“Cheese” + “Bologna” = “Cheelogna” …get it?)That mixture is spread on bread – any kind – and popped in the oven for 2-5 minutes on a high broil, just until the edges turn brown. The flavor is even more exceptional if they’re a little burnt.

And it’s incredibly delicious.

Fattening too, I suppose. But hey, I live in Minnesota. It’s cold here and a little extra cushion keeps you warm. Then again, I limit my intake, good as those little treats are.

A family tradition

“Traditions are a part of life. They set standards of behavior. They impart family values. They help knit together family members into a tapestry that gives each one a sense of belonging and acceptance…not limited to a particular season…” – Richard Ivy, Memories of Dad

It’s true.

Those family traditions are deeply rooted in our family’s history. The Cheelogna recipe has been handed down a few generations now and probably didn’t start with Cheese Whiz as a staple ingredient since the product made its national debut in 1953.  

And it’s over those sandwiches that we’ve shared some of our best conversations. My uncle, who is in the Air Force, would talk about his travels and life experiences. Another would share stories of his Harley-adventures. My aunts, grandmother and mother would share what God was doing in their lives, both in the year past and currently, and I would sit and listen with awe and wonder at how active God still is, here and now.

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings [or traditions] we passed on to you… 2 Thessalonians 2.15a

And it’s those same traditions I hope to pass on to others, whether I have a family of my own one day or not. I can still share the joy of Christ with everyone who crosses my path.

How about you? What traditions are part of your family’s history? Do they reflect the life of Christ here and now? If not, how can you start today to include him? What would that look like?

traditions: Christmas stockings

My parents made a point of keeping this tradition with each passing year, no matter their economic5b2b268df75b2308cdd26822e5aeb7de and financial state. The only difference in gifts found in our Christmas stockings on Christmas morning was the amount and type.

Tougher years consisted of the little LifeSavers booklet, consisting of ten different flavored rolls of LifeSavers, and a hand-made card. Other years consisted of the same plus an assortment of candy and some sort of brain teaser/puzzle gift.

Our stockings were the first gifts opened before going to Christmas services at our church.

I looked forward to enjoying the LifeSavers and assortment of candy during that morning service – back before they did Christmas Eve services. My memory can still taste the pineapple flavored LifeSavers even though I haven’t had them in quite some time – no need for excess sugar. Come to think of it, I probably couldn’t stomach it now, but that’s beside the point.

There’s a popular legend as to how the stocking tradition got started:

Long ago there was a poor man who lived with his three daughters. It was tradition that the father would offer a monetary diary to a future son-in-law when his daughter married. Since he was poor, he had no money to offer. A man named Saint Nicholas was passing through the village when he heard about this. He wanted to help, but knew the man would never accept charity. He decided to help in secret. He waited until it was night and crept through the chimney. He had three bags of gold coins which was placed in the stockings of the three girls, which had been hung on the mantel to dry. When they woke and found the money, they were so happy. The girls were able to got married and this led to the tradition of hanging stockings on the mantle.

Unfortunately, I currently don’t have a mantle nor do I have a chimney. It’s a good thing I’ve never believed in Santa… I currently use my entertainment center and/or the DVD case. They work just as well.

My Christmas stocking hasn’t ever had anything in it.

Instead, I use it as a reminder of all of the non-material things I could fill it with: acts of kindness, developing virtue and character….the spirituality of keeping Christ in Christmas (not to mention, all year round – you’ll often hear/read that line from me).

“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Jesus, Matthew 25.40

The month of December is filled with more than just the normal holiday hustle and bustle. People give in December more than any other time of the year (not including yearly community service campaigns at work – this is different). Honestly, I find that rather sad. Shouldn’t we give to those less fortunate all year round?

I encourage you to look for ways to help, no matter the time of year. Start now and continue into next year. Give and serve in both big and small ways , in all ways – financially, spiritually, talent-wise, time, etc. I’ve discovered that the most valuable gift you can give is your time – you can’t get that back – but the blessings, when time is used wisely, are worth it. And thank God for the gift of Jesus – how can you serve him today?