Traditions - Part One

According to my calendar, Winter begins on December 21st.  I'm not one who enjoys arguments, so I must politely state my disagreement.  While surely not arbitrary or random, the dating system of the beginning of Winter appears faulty.  Winter arrived long before and we're still a week away from the "start" of it.  While our snowfall for this season so far is less than most Alaskans (including this one) hope for, it remains snowy white outside.  Only a few diehard leaves cling to branches and the geese flew south long ago.  Winter is here.

While Winter brings some things I don't enjoy such as cold fingers, slick intersections, road-gravel cracked windshields, and falls (I have yet, in all of my sixteen Alaskan winters, made it through without a slip on the ice!), it also brings wonderful things such as snow to play in, ice to skate on, starry nights, neighborhood house light displays, sledding hills, and eggnog.  

Winter also brings out traditions.  Two of my favorite family traditions occur in late November or early December every year.  Each year, along with several traditions and newly-discovered activities, we engage in our tradition of setting up our Christmas tree and building our gingerbread house.  Next week I'll tell you about the latter.  Today I invite you into our Tree Tradition.  

As far back as I can remember, in my more than forty years, I have settled only once for a "fake" tree.  I believe in the real deal - smell, sap, needles, and all.  While everything else for our decorating for Christmas rests in boxes and tubs most months of the year, our tree is new each and every year -- sometimes from Home Depot; sometimes from Lowe's; and, occasionally, self-felled.  I remember years where string and wires held our tree in place when a stand alone would not do.  Yet, every year a tree stands in our home.  Once it does, traditions within the tradition begin.  First, we unpack our ornament boxes and search for and sort our treasures.  I do so nearly religiously.  My wife will vouch for me on that.  Displacing bubble wrap, tissue paper, and protective boxes, I lay my collection out, reassuring myself that each ornament is accounted for from my fist ornament (a baby boy in blue footies) to my Beagle Scout Snoopy; from my white bear to my tennis-playing Santa; all the way through.  I cherish those tiny possessions.  I resist the temptation to hang all of my ornaments front and center on the tree.  I'm still learning to share!  Plus, it would really look bad for me to relegate my children's treasures to the rear.  I'm getting better; I promise!

Along with those tree decisions, we face another.  What goes on the top?  No, not an angel.  Hear me out on this.  I dig the Bible's accounts of Gabriel meeting Zechariah, archangel Michael fighting with the devil over Moses' body (see Jude), and the studly two who escorted Lot and his bunch out of Sodom.  But I just cannot get into the images of exceptionally beautiful (and, for some reason, blond) or "Precious Moments"-delightful, or star-shiny angels.  So we've tried several tree-toppers.  Lately we have granted our kids permission to pick a stuffed friend to rest atop.  The orange-antlered moose often wins.

This year we took a different approach.  Several years ago we received a "Christmas Nail" as a gift.  A poem accompanied the nail.

This is The Christmas Nail.
It is to be hung on a sturdy branch,
a branch near the trunk,
a branch that will hold such a spike without being noticed by well-wishers
dropping by to admire one's tinseled tree.
The nail is known only to the home that hangs it.
Understood only by the heart that knows its significance.
It is hung with the thought...that the Christmas tree but foreshadows the Christ-tree which only He could decorate for us,
ornamented with nails as this.
I like the Nail.  I strongly dislike the poem.  "Hold such a spike without being noticed."  Really?  Christ decorating the "Christ-tree."  Seriously?  

So I kept the nail and threw away the poem.  (I had to Google it in order to share it with you.)

This year the moose finds another home and the Nail hangs from the pinnacle.  To be noticed.  To "tell" of Jesus' birth as the arrival of the One who would die on a tree.

Within our Tree Tradition, we broke from tradition - first by giving a moose the angel's place and then offering that place to the Nail.  Who knows?  Will that become a tradition?  We don't know.  As long as we don't surrender the top to a cute angel again, I'll be OK.

But for now, each time my eyes rest on the Nail, I remember to say "Thank you" to the One . . .
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11

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