“Did I notice that you placed the baby Jesus in your manger before Christmas? You do realize you are an Episcopalian now, and you can’t put the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas.” Oh dear. My first blunder as a newbie at All Saints. I still remember that first Christmas, when I moved to Los Angeles four and a half years ago. I was newly single and was ready for a fresh, new start. It was time to buy some new decorations for the season. Fresh start – fresh, new decorations. And at the same time, I am such a fount of old family traditions.
Like most families, mine was riddled with December traditions. My mother refers to me as “The Family Historian” because I have held onto so many. The best Decembers of my life were the first nine years of my life. Our family celebrated “Norman Rockwell” type Christmases. Eggnog in Santa mugs while we decorated the tree, Christmas tree-shaped cookies, the blessed Perry Como Christmas album that my sister and I played from October – December and my father playing Santa for the kids in the neighborhood while my grandfather played carols on the banjo.
I can still hear the sound of the staple gun, as my father attached greens to the large wooden circle and make the biggest wreathes to hang on our home. I can still smell the special Italian Christmas Eve Aliche sauce (with anchovies and capers) and antipasto that we would soon devour. And then there was the manger. Our old, rickety white-painted manger that was built for my mother by her father when she was a little girl.
Every December, it was my favorite decoration that my brother, sister and I put together. All of the figurines (some with their original Woolworth’s stickers on the bottom) were special to us. They were all wrapped in paper and we would take turns picking from the box and set each one in the manger. We would always covet whatever figurine the other unwrapped. My favorite — although my brother or sister always seemed to pick her — was the blue angel that sat on the shelf above the baby Jesus. There was always the fight over who put the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve. I guess at some point, I forgot that tradition and put the baby in the manger when I set it up. Maybe it was to rush through the season. Maybe it is because that tradition seemed to slip by as our family seemed to go our separate ways.
Those times were precious to me. I think I have done just about everything to recreate the Decembers of my childhood, and have never succeeded. After my parents separated Decembers lost some of their magic. I have done just about everything I could to recreate that old feeling and try to forget the brokenness, although it still bubbles up every year. It is then that I hold even more tightly to those traditions and have shared them with my students and my closest of friends.
Since I have come to All Saints, December has been a new whirlwind of new traditions. From many hours of music preparation and rehearsals, to candlelit Advent services and precious time with my new All Saints family, a new, yet equally lovely tradition was created. I have gained a different, and new spark for the season. I still hold onto all of my family traditions. And yes, I still put the baby Jesus in his cradle during the whole month of December. Advent is about hope, peace, joy and love, all found in the spirit of Jesus and in my dear friends. While life takes its twists and turns, Jesus is the constant. That is the tradition. So I will keep that baby in the manger; for the sake of focus during a crazy, yet precious time of year. It’s not my original tradition, but one that I just might stick with. What are your traditions? What will be your focus?
The first in our series of daily Advent Meditations, offered by staff members of All Saints Church, Pasadena. Jenny Tisi is the Director of Children’s and Youth Music.