How the Church Stole Christmas!

Confessions of a Yule-Aholic

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.

It wasn't long before my daughters began to resent December's annual rhythm.

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.

Who Are You, and What Did You Do With My Dad?

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.

Our celebration of Christmas lasts the entire month of December and into January.

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.

Christmas, Asimakoupoulos-Style

  • Beginning Dec. 1, our daughters take turns each day putting an ornament on the Advent tree. We also arrange our Nativity set on the piano in the living room — sans the wise men, who instead begin their "journey" from a far corner of the house and move a little each day in the direction of the creche (courtesy of my wife). The girls get a kick out of the traveling Magi.
  • On Dec. 6, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day and remember the Christian patriarch whose real-life story sparked the mythical figure of Santa Claus.
  • Our church has Swedish roots, so we also celebrate Santa Lucia Day (Dec. 13). To re-enact this story of a young European girl who was persecuted for her faith in the Middle Ages, Wendy, wearing a traditional candle wreath in her hair, rises early and serves each of us breakfast in bed while singing words I've written to the old Italian melody "Santa Lucia."
  • During the month, each of us puts action to the phrase "peace on earth, goodwill to men" by giving every member in our family a $5 gift purchased from a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store. It's great fun, and our kids know that the money they spend in these stores goes to help needy people.
  • Because much of Christmas Eve is spent getting ready for services that night, we get up early and go out for breakfast at an especially nice restaurant (which is surprisingly affordable). We even ask the waitress to take our picture, which we include in a photo album just for these snapshots. Then the girls and I put a red rubber ball, Rudolph-style, on the hood of our minivan and deliver baskets of homemade baked goodies to our neighbors and those we know with special needs. Our youngest jingles sleigh bells at the door instead of ringing the doorbell.
  • Perhaps our most special tradition is our celebration of Jan. 6, the Day of the Kings (Epiphany). That morning, our breakfast table is graced with five quilted crowns. (The first year, we spray painted Burger King crowns gold.) Inside each are three small stocking-stuffer gifts. After eating together, we read the story of the wise men from the Bible, sing Epiphany carols (including "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which documents the history of a 12-day, post-Christmas celebration that culminates on Epiphany) and discover that the wise men have finally joined the Nativity scene on the piano, thanks again to Wendy. Oh, and yes, we take turns opening the gifts.

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.

Somehow she thought because our family did, everybody did.

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.

Taken from Pastor's Family magazine, Dec. 1998/Jan 1999.
Article copyright © 1998, Greg Asimakoupoulos.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Greg Asimakoupoulos is currently the senior pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church in suburban Seattle. He has spent nearly 20 years as a local church pastor in Washington, California and Illinois. From 1997 to 2002, he was also director of creative communication for Mainstay Ministries in Wheaton, Ill. Since then, he has pursued a ministry of writing, speaking and broadcasting. He has been married to his wife, Wendy, for over 20 years. They have three young adult daughters: Kristin, Allison and Lauren.