Christmas in “Paradise”

One day this Christmas season, I was supervising Michael while he put the silver garland around our tree. He exclaimed, as he came across a previously undiscovered and unopened box of tinsel as well. I hollered into the kitchen, where Cheryl was making Christmas candy: “Isn’t it tinsel that you don’t like — or is it garland?” Suddenly I had a realization, and I said, “Or is it both?” “Is it BOTH!” she said flatly. Oh well, we didn’t mind — she wasn’t TOO much of a Scrooge as long as she was in there making our favorite Christmas candy!

Every family has food, traditions and events which make the season special for them. The same is true in the “Paradise” of this pastor’s home as well:

Christmas Traditions
One of the highlights of Christmas (and all holidays really) is that the kids all come home from college and seminary, and we get to spend time together. We usually play some board games — Risk, Monopoly, and in recent days, “Settlers of Catan”, a newer game which is a kind of combination of those two classic favorites. The stakes are high, and the kids get a kick out of it if they can somehow beat Dad — a rare feat, I might add! 🙂

There is usually a game of football outside at some point, too, as the boys re-live their “glory” days from old (or at least what they REMEMBER as being “glory days”! 😉 And then they will come in and play video games — not so “Christmas-y” (especially when they are “killing” each other playing “Modern Warfare”, but a good time in fellowship for them anyway!


Christmas music is a big part of the season, and one of my personal favorites is Handel’s “Messiah.” This classic musical tells the Christmas story using exclusively scripture as its text, from the Old Testament prophecies to the glories of heaven. But its centuries-old flavor is not for everyone …
One Monday during Christmas season, Michael came out from his room. I was doing my bike exercise, and Cheryl was again making Christmas candy. “Messiah” was playing, and Michael stood there for a moment and asked what it was.
“Handel’s ‘Messiah’,” Cheryl responded.
“Oh,” Michael said. “I was going to say it sounded like Gilbert & Sullivan, except it wasn’t funny!”

“Messiah” is not the shortest musical, and Michael was ready for the next cd to go on the changer. As I was getting cleaned up from my bike ride in the other room, I heard the introduction to “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” begin. As the music started, Michael asked Cheryl, “Is that it?” Cheryl said she didn’t know. “Maybe this is the exit music,” he said wishfully!

So … one of my personal “traditions” the last few years has been listening through “Messiah” at some point by myself — often times late on Christmas Eve, when everyone else has gone to bed, and “not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse!”

A new “tradition” we’ve developed in just the last year or so, is that whenever the kids come home, we all go for a walk together. It evolved from my walking for exercise while I have been working through POTS. I would go out for a stroll in the neighborhood, and Cheryl would often go with me. Then one time we invited some of the kids to come with us, and they did. After we had done this several times during their trips home, I noticed that we always had some of our best talks while we were out walking. So now we have purposefully begun asking everyone to go for a walk, and we will inevitably break into little pairs (often not the anticipated ones) and have some great “walk-talks.” These family walks inspired a picture we took last Thanksgiving. Some have asked how we took it. Our son-in-law Josh lined us up where we wanted to be in front of his camera, then we took 3 steps back, Josh set the camera on automatic, joined the group, and we started walking. In a couple of seconds the camera “clicked”, and we did this several times. I figured it was a “one-in-a-million” chance that one of those pictures would actually turn out, but I really wanted to try it, since our walks have been such a neat part of our get-togethers in recent days. And lo and behold — we GOT the “one-in-a-million” shot! It is one of our favorites!


Besides the games and fellowship, there are several traditions we observe in “Paradise” during Christmas:

Gingerbread House Competition
This is one of the kids’ favorites (maybe I should have included that under the “games” category, as they are extremely competitive with this!) Cheryl makes the walls and roof for a home-made gingerbread house for each family member, makes icing to “glue” it all together, and buys a slew of candy and other ingredients to decorate the houses with — and then the contest is on! Traditionally, everyone would claim their own victory, but in recent years we have posted pictures of the houses on Facebook, and the one with the most “likes” gets the bragging rights for the year! (We are planning to put this year’s contest on my blog, so check it out and cast your vote!)

Many families find that their Christmases are enriched with the addition of a child. We are looking forward to that next year, as Libby and Josh are expecting our first grandchild in May. But this year we have had a foreshadowing of that, with our new “baby” — our kitten Eponine. She has brought a new and, well, “different” angle to Christmas to say the least. It began with the tree. We wondered how she would deal with a Christmas tree, since one of her favorite activities in the house is climbing two artificial ficus trees Cheryl uses to decorate the house. What would she do with a real tree — and one covered in ornaments?
It didn’t take us long to find out. As soon as we brought the tree in and set it up, Eponine “scoped it out” — and immediately started to climb “Mt. Christmas Tree.” In a few seconds, she was right at the top — a different kind of “tree topper” indeed!


But once she had made it to the top and returned to terra firma, Eponine began cleaning herself. Evidently, she didn’t like the sap from the tree that had gotten all over her coat, and she hasn’t climbed the tree again. However, that did not end her escapades with the tree. Once we saw that she wouldn’t climb the tree again, we had Michael begin to put ornaments on it — starting with unbreakable ones only! That was a good idea, as Eponine has gotten much entertainment from climbing up on the presents under the tree, swatting an ornament down, and then playing “cat and mouse” with it all over the floor! Not one of our “traditional” Christmas episodes, but one that has kept us very entertained throughout the season!

Christmas Eve

The Christmas Eve Present
Some families open presents on Christmas Eve, but we have always made the kids wait for Christmas morning. As the kids were anxious, and because of their much pleading, over time we did give an inch and started a new tradition of the kids opening one present on Christmas Eve. Mom & Dad would tell them what present to open, and for years it was a pair of pajamas that they could wear to bed that night, or in later years a DVD they could watch as they went to sleep.
As the kids got older we stopped giving them pj’s (thankfully!) and sometimes they would choose to open one of their presents for each other on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Dinner
There are a lot of “traditional” Christmas foods, but one of our family traditions is way “out of the box.” One of our family’s very favorite meals is Cheryl’s chicken enchiladas, and one year Cheryl asked what we wanted for Christmas Eve, and everyone clamored for that. This has now grown into a tradition, and each year for some time now we have had Chicken Enchiladas for our Christmas Eve meal. Cheryl will get the enchiladas made, put them in the refrigerator while we go to our church’s Christmas Eve service, and then put them in the oven as soon as we get back. Not your “typical” Christmas repast, perhaps, but definitely one of our family’s most cherished traditions!

Ice Box Cinnamon Rolls
A more “traditional” Christmas treat at our house is cinnamon rolls. Cheryl makes some of the best cinnamon rolls ever, and she always has a batch baking on Christmas morning. When we get up, things are soon very crazy, as we are all opening presents. But Cheryl has prepared the delectable batch the day before, and has them rise in the refrigerator overnight. As soon as we get up Christmas morning, she puts them in the oven. Once all the presents are opened, we enjoy warm, melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon rolls with icing as we enjoy playing with our Christmas gifts.


The Christmas Stories
On Christmas Eve when I was a child, our family would sit in the living room by the Christmas tree, and read the Christmas story from the Bible by candlelight, and sing Christmas hymns. (For better or for worse, my Dad would often interject wisecracks about some comic facet of the proceedings.) We have carried this tradition to our home, with a few modifications. We read all of the Christmas stories from scripture (Matthew 1, Luke 2, and Matthew 2, in chronological order) and in between the passages, we sing whatever Christmas hymns fit with that particular part of the story. After this celebration, the kids were sent off to bed to wait for Christmas morning.
In recent years, since I have been a pastor, we have had a Christmas Eve service at church. What we have done is not as much of a “service” as just a transporting of our home celebration to church. In fact we have advertised it as a “home style Christmas Eve”, and I have had some of our kids read one of the Christmas passages, and I have led in singing the hymns, and sent everyone off with a candle lighting. (Note: some of our family members are not fond of being in the “spotlight” — Cheryl foremost among them. Paul inherited this from her, and so she and Paul would sit on the front row while the rest of us sat on stage and read and sang. I have always tried not to force our family to conform to a certain “mold” because they were pastor’s kids, and judging from the results, I think God has blessed that!) So basically we just “moved” our home celebration to the church, and let everyone else join our family celebration. Services have always been well-attended, and have been sweet, sweet evenings.

Good Night to “Christmas in Paradise”
As you can tell from this reading, Cheryl spends the biggest part of her Christmas season in the kitchen making meals, candy, and other goodies. After one particularly tiring day this Christmas, Cheryl dragged herself over to my recliner to give me a quick kiss good-night. I had the Pandora classic Christmas carol station going on my iPhone, and “Adeste Fidelis” was playing (“O Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin). Very weary, Cheryl said, “Are they singing that song in another language or something?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Oh good,” she murmured, as she stumbled off to bed.

Just another Christmas night in “Paradise”! I wish such a “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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2 Responses to Christmas in “Paradise”

  1. Towanna says:

    Merry Christmas, Bro. Shawn. Thanks for sharing.

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