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 became a minister, I continued my love affair with the month of December. For my children, however, it was another story. Having a minister 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.
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.
Our kids still bristle at times when they realize my Christmas responsibilities will prevent our family from having 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 she thought because our family did, everybody did.
Well, not everybody does. But maybe your family will this year.
Parties, concerts and extra services during the holidays that keep the pastor out beyond his regular hours can easily result in less-than-jolly feelings in the parsonage. Here are some suggestions to ease that burden.
Even with limited funds and a crowded schedule, you can give joyfully to the congregation at Christmastime.