The ghost of Christmas past, cow muck and knickers

If the ghost of Christmas past visited you, what would he show you? Which moments, which memories, which habits, which catastrophes and which delights would feature?

I suspect that a ten second pause is long enough for a torrent of memories to come flooding back, some with out-loud laughter, some with winces and some with confusion. Want to hear a few of mine?

As children, just as we were getting desperate to open our presents, Dad would disappear. Nowhere to be found. Eventually, one of us would be sent to the cows’ barn to ask Dad to stop mucking them out. In retrospect, as bizarre as this sounds, I think it was his happy place to escape the relentless, frenetic energy of Christmas day.

My first Christmas as a married man with my parents was spent in bed with flu. My illness condemned my new wife to navigate our family’s well-worn rituals alone. She would come up at hourly intervals with urgent questions, “Why would anyone have mash and roast potatoes for Christmas lunch?”, “Will we be going on a long country walk each day?” and “Is every meal going to be cold turkey from now on?”

My first Christmas as a married man with my wife’s family was the incident with the underwear. They had a tradition where they would open their Santa stockings at the kitchen table, each opening one present at a time followed by words of surprise and comment from others. This was adulthood, so really it was a large bag of small presents from Mum and Dad, which always included underwear. I do agree that we all need new underwear and it’s helpful to know that you’re going to get three pairs of new knickers/undies (delete where applicable) every Christmas. Before my arrival, I see that this would have worked fine. I just hadn’t emotionally prepared myself for my new mother-in-law waving her new knickers around with everyone else feeling able to comment on them. My silence became deafening. With new in-laws what is the best response? “They are fantastic knickers!”, “Are they the type you like?”, “I’ve never seen a pair like that” or just “I’m so pleased you like them”

Then came Christmas with our own children and the barrage of issues over Father Christmas. I now agree with my son that it is strange to allow a large, fat, strange man to break into our house, enter his bedroom in the dead of night to deposit gifts in a pillow case just inches from his head. And I can also see his point that after hearing the mantra, “In this family we love the truth” numerous times, it is confusing that he must stop telling other children that Father Christmas is actually their parents, or he will be punished.

In recent years, I feel the concern that our family’s pile of presents is so large that Google is wondering if it should mark it on maps. If I had my way, everyone would just get a particularly nice pot of jam and a really big hug. So instead I desperately try to bring order and gratitude to the annual wrapping paper storm that rips through our house on Christmas Day.

The story of parenting is mostly a messy, bizarre, relentless journey through confusion, joy, despair and comedy. Or is that just the story of my parenting? Christmas feels like the annual pinnacle of that epic adventure. As parents, we can’t control what will feature on our children’s journey with the ghost of Christmas past, but we can do our best to provide some fixed points that stand for the best of a truly Christian Christmas.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul reminds the church how he was like a father to them, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 1:12-12)

The ghost of Christmas past would also show me how my parents encouraged, comforted and urged me to live a life worthy of God. I am so grateful to my parents that church was always part of Christmas Day. I now understand why Mum’s lonely cousin was always invited to join us for the day. I am proud of my Dad that he took us with him to deliver Christmas lunch to the elderly couple up the road. And I thank God that Dad always finished Christmas Day by praying with me before I collapsed in a heap at bedtime.

Before you get lost in the panic, excitement, shopping and vegetable peelings just check that there will be a few fixed points in your Christmas that encourage, comfort and urge your children to live lives worthy of Christ.

And here are 2 great resource to begin with:

A family advent devotional by Barbara Reaoch and