Holiday Traditions

‘Twas three days before Christmas, and all through the house, the children were laughing along with her spouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, with hopes that the cat would not steal them from there.

I have been thinking about traditions- which ones we’ve kept, which ones we have let slip away. The old me (the younger me?) would have lamented this hard. After all, traditions are meant to be kept, right? If I let that tradition go, I must be cheating my family out of joy/peace/faith/connection/etc. I don’t think that way any more. A tradition is a tool, not an heirloom. They may be passed down to us from generations past, or made from fresh cloth, but they are only the means to an end.

The traditions we are keeping this year:

  • singing O Come O Come Emmanuel for our Advent grace (c. 2007)
  • a family Christmas alphabet of gratitude (c. 1996)
  • putting up the Christmas decorations Thanksgiving weekend (c. generations)
  • reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever together (c. 2005)
  • visiting the Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light (c. 2021)
  • a sibling gift exchange (c. 2016)
  • church on Christmas Eve (c. generations)
  • Sam’s making Aunt Jen’s coffee cake on Christmas morning (c. 2000)
  • our Christmas movie marathon (c. 2020)

We let lots of other traditions go: Nutcrackers, elaborate cookie exchanges, the singalong Messiah, so many crafts, Jingle Bell Runs, new pajamas on Christmas Eve, a million different Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, traveling… they may or may not come back in the future. But this year, for right now, these traditions are the tools that are serving us.

Do you have a new favorite holiday tradition, or one you have let go?

Looking forward to Advent

I hate Halloween.  I’m like a Halloween Grinch.

Image result for grinch

And I especially hate that Halloween falls during my birthday month (yes, I’m that annoying person who wants the whole month to be about me), so that all of October as I’m admiring the gorgeous fall colors, giant plastic pumpkins and creepy skeletons keep intruding.  There’s a giant plastic spider in a polyester web over an exam room at work that made one of my young patients scream the other day, and I knew just how he felt.

This is what I love about October.

And this, too.

The one thing I like about Halloween is that it tells me Advent is almost here.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving and especially Christ the King Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent, this year on November 20).  But I especially love Advent. It’s a season of contemplation and prayer.

I love that the Giant Retail Machine has not figured out how to turn Advent into a commercial enterprise.

In a fit of pique about a particularly icky lawn ornament I saw the other day, I came home and pulled out our Advent books, just to see if there were any gaps I wanted to fill in.  (There were.  I ordered a few new-to-us books.)

If you don’t have any Advent traditions, or want to know what the Advent fuss is all about, let me recommend a few of my favorite Advent resources.


For advance planning and ideas for how to meditate and celebrate at home, I recommend Let Us Keep the Feast, edited by Jessica Snell. For each of the church seasons, it provides a collection of resources, including an introduction to the season, an explanation of the calendar, information on seasonal traditions- old, new and international, seasonal recipes, suggestions for how to celebrate with the very young, ways to serve beyond the home, selected readings, music and prayers. (I wrote the section on Ordinary Time, but that isn’t my favorite one.)  The book is available from Doulos Resources, or Amazon, both in electronic, pdf and paperback forms.

Elizabeth Foss has an Advent devotional called Comfort and Joy that looks beautiful (though I haven’t tried it.)  She also has some lovely book lists I’ve used to shape our collection of special books we read during Advent.

In past years we have enjoyed Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Jesse Tree, which we’ve read as an Advent family devotion.  This year, I think we’ll be back to Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.

Do you have an Advent resource to recommend as we look ahead (past Halloween)? Please share in the comments.

The Feast of All Saints

Happy All Saints to you!  This is one of my favorite Church feasts, though not one I celebrated until recently.

I love all sorts of things about All Saints’ Day.  I love that Halloween (my least favorite “holiday”) is past and people are going to take the skeletons and tombstones  out of their lawns.  I love remembering the cloud of witnesses who have gone before.  I love to celebrate the fellowship of the saints we have with us today.

All Saints is Moriah’s baptism anniversary, so we always have a little party.

There is just a month left in the Church year.  Still time to finish strong.  This final month is all about finishing: appreciating the fellowship of believers across centuries, realizing the abundance of blessings God has given us at Thanksgiving, and celebrating Christ the King and his eternal Kingdom.


Wondering how to finish strong when the stores have already pulled out their Christmas decorations and shopping countdowns are posted everywhere you look?  I have a few suggestions:

For All Saints’ Day: take time today to celebrate a loved one who has died. That might mean pulling out your grandmother’s tea pot, or resurrecting your aunt’s recipe for cornbread or pierogies.  Reading your grandfather’s favorite verse. Watching your dad’s favorite movie.  For us it will mean planting bulbs in the garden in honor of my friend Jerry who died last spring. They will come up in the spring and remind us of his vibrant, abundant life.

We’re singing my favorite hymn tomorrow in church: For All the Saints.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,

who thee by faith before the world confessed,

thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

There was a time during medical school and residency when I was so tired I used to weep at those words– I was so jealous of their rest– but now I can sing joy and an appropriate sense of longing.

For Thanksgiving:

Set the tone for a month gratitude by starting to count your blessings now.  Wrap a shoebox in paper, cut a hole in the lid, and encourage your family to write down or draw a blessing they are thankful for from the year. On Thanksgiving, open the box and read them aloud.


For Christ the King Sunday:

C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle is a great read-aloud for this month leading up to this Sunday.

Likewise, bringing the Kingdom in daily ways– serving our neighbors, a canned or coat food drive– are ways to honor the Kingship of Christ.

In honor of All Saints’ Day, Let Us Keep the Feast: The Complete Year is being released today. That link is to the paperback, but it’s also available as an ebook or pdf through Doulos Resources or Amazon. It’s full of resources for a celebration of the church year and ways to see God in your daily walk.  (Jessica is hosting a giveaway of the book here!)

If you have a special way you celebrate the saints in your life, please share in the comments.

LUKTF: Pentecost and Ordinary Time

Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost.  Normally we spend our day celebrating the Spirit’s empowerment of the Church and Owen’s baptism anniversary.  This year, since we were traveling, we will celebrate Owen’s baptism on Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost).

Pentecost dinner, 2010

We’re heading into the part of the Church year that is often forgotten.  It’s much easier to celebrate a holiday than a season, and Ordinary Time (from Trinity Sunday till Advent) is quite a long season.  Yet for me, it’s the time when each day becomes holy and I find myself growing like a garden.

My chapter of Let Us Keep the Feast: Pentecost and Ordinary Time, is out.  Here’s the link to order from the publisher, and here’s the link from Amazon.  It’s meant to be an encouragement to live your time as sacred—all of it, even the ordinary moments.  In the fall, the full set of booklets will be released as a book.  I’ll keep you posted.


Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter

I am such a creature of the world that it’s hard for me to think of Easter as a season.  Like Christmas, the commercial lead-in of chocolate bunnies and dyed-egg wreaths lasts so long that once the decorations go on clearance on that Monday, I’m ready to pack it all away.


Not this year.  This year, I need every reminder that Christ is risen.  I need the Alleluia on my mantle.  I need to soak in the reality that Jesus has conquered the tomb—his, my friend’s, and even mine. (I haven’t bought an urn for myself, but I’ll confess that death has been on my mind.)

If you, like me, struggle to know what it would look like to celebrate a season of Easter, you will enjoy Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter.  To quote Lindsay Marshall’s chapter on Easter, “In short, it is roughly six weeks of unbridled, unfettered, unfiltered joy: praise and thanksgiving to our mighty Savior, and ecstatic celebration of the hope we have in His victory over death.”

My friend’s recent funeral was a union of many parts of his life: Michigan youth camp, inner-city health ministry, and trainer of physicians in Afghanistan.  We were all there, celebrating Christ’s victory together.  That’s Easter to me.

In the Garden of Gethsemane

Lately I’ve been wondering why I’m in medicine. Rather, I’ve been wondering how to get out of medicine. I have two young boys who need me home so much, and the challenge of juggling their needs, my husband’s needs, and my needs with my patients’ need to have a physician available to them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is truly impossible. At any given time, I am letting somebody – often several people­­ – down. But more than that, I find medicine exhausting. I’m not talking about the fights with the HMOs, or the hours, or the fear of being sued. I’m talking about the suffering. 

I’m writing over at The Well today. Will you read the rest here?

Feast of the Annunciation: looking ahead

Today is the Feast of Annunciation.  Good news proclaimed before we can even see it.  A brave young woman, willing to accept an impossible call because it comes through an overshadowing by the power of the Most High.

“How will this be?” Mary asked, “since I am a virgin?”

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1: 34-38)

How is your Lent coming, friends?

Our Lent has been very low key.  I can’t find the mantle letters I packed away last year, so we still have GRACE up, instead of PRAY.  Grace is good, too, and it’s apparently the message I need to be focusing on right now.  I haven’t even pulled out the Lent wreath, though the children have asked.  (I don’t know why I have such lassitude about it.)


We have been slowly memorizing Isaiah 58:6-9 (we’re on verse 7). We’re taking this slow, so that even SweetP can join in.  I feel like the Israelites in the desert– I’d love to push ahead and get somewhere (anywhere?) faster, but the point is to bring everyone along. Leave no one behind. So we go slowly.

But Easter is around the bend, with Holy Week looming.  This is a link to our Holy Week tradition, and one the children are planning to hold me to, lassitude or not.  But I am excited to peruse my copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week and Easter (out this week) for new traditions and ideas.

Lent is just around the corner

Usually Lent sneaks up on me, and WHAM- we’re in it, without my having much chance to think ahead to it. To plan, as it were. Perhaps my absurd surprise (at this season that happens every year? Seriously?) is a side effect of my love of Epiphany. Whatever the cause- my heart or my shoes-Ash Wednesday often finds me scrambling.

This year, I have two advantages over years past. One: Epiphany was long this year. I had almost two months to celebrate the season of winter’s Light traveling forth into the world. Two: I had in my hands a copy of Let Us Keep the Feast: Epiphany and Lent. Cate MacDonald’s thoughtful chapter on Lent was a help to me.

My kids were talking about Lent in the car recently. Owen remembered his Lego Fast, during which he “lasted” only five days before caving in to play with his favorite toy. The children were eager to recommend fasts to one another: “You should give up chocolate chip cookies!” and “You should give up books!” (Apparently they remembered by recounting the story of Lauren Winter’s Lenten fast from her chapter –I think- from Girl Meets God.) I was at a loss to think how to move them from a concept as a fast as punitive or fasting for the sake of fasting, to a real fast, which would clear away cobwebs in our heart to let us hear God better.

Cate MacDonald’s chapter focuses on Isaiah 58. Isaiah apparently had the same struggle with Israel as I am having with my children (and to be honest, with myself.)

It appears in this passage that the Lord has chosen a fast that is, in a way, no fast at all. He does not tell us what to give up, but instead what to do. The fast the Lord has chosen is charity, justice, and generosity. The fasting itself is irrelevant- or at least it could be, depending on how you use it.

So I think we will be memorizing Isaiah 58:1-9 and talking about God’s idea of fast. Some of us may choose also to do a more physical fast. I think I will pick up a prayer discipline of some sort. And we will talk as a family about how to reach out to the refugees in our backyard, and pray through how God would have us respond to the hungry, the homeless poor and the naked in our midst.



If you are looking for a more structured way to prepare your family’s hearts for Holy Week and Easter, I recommend Ann Voskamp’s Trail to the Tree (with fewer than 40 days of meditations, so that you can start “late” and still complete the story before Easter). But let’s be real: it’s never too late to start, and a small change in my heart is still a change from where I was yesterday.  Owen’s “failed” Lego Fast- and my many “failed” fasts over many years- are not failures. They are windows into my need for God, and opportunities to begin again.

For the love of the Light


I struggle with the darkness in January.  Even now, living in a state with 300 days of sunshine a year, I still struggle with the long nights and late sunrises.

When Jonah was a baby and woke at 5 or 5:30 to nurse and play for an hour or two before going back to bed, we spent many early mornings at the dog park just watching other people’s dogs chase balls on the hill.  But in icy January, which was too cold even for Jonah in his fleecy snowsuit and fuzzy blankets, we stayed home and sat together by candlelight.

Candlelight feels sacred to me.  The light illumines only the space directly around it, but that light is warm. Welcoming. Holy.


Sunday is Candlemas, when we will bring our candles for the year (the ones I have gathered, at least) to be blessed by our priest.  Traditionally, the prayers for Candlemas echo Simeon’s recognition of Jesus’s divinity, as recorded in Luke
2:25-36.  Jesus is the Light.  May He reign in our homes.  May His Light go forth from our homes to illumine the world.


Can we burn unblessed candles all year? Of course.  Can they still remind us of Jesus and remind us to carry his light into the world?  Certainly.  But this small tradition during the season of Epiphany is one of the many opportunities the Church calendar affords us to break the barriers between Church life and home life, and our family certainly needs more of those.  Will you join us?

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” St Francis of Assisi

Holy Week, in photos

Remember that this is a repost, and all old injuries are healed.

We had a sudden blast of snow this week after a month of spring-into-summer.

:: A girl-meets-pavement accident (before the snow) landed us in the ER.  No broken bones this time.


:: Tulips shutting themselves up against the snow.

:: Porch swing swinging wet in the wind.

:: Pansies bravely blooming anyway.


:: Budding fruit trees frozen.  No fruit to come.

Brave hoped, dashed.  Wine spilled.

A triumphant King… wearing a crown of thorns.