One tradition that has stuck in our family is our annual pilgrimage to a Christmas town in the Rocky Mountains. The first two weekends of each December, the entire (small) town, converts to a Christmas village with choirs, horse-drawn sleighs, cocoa, an outdoor Christmas market and a St. Lucia parade with visits from St. Nicholas. It is simple. It is lovely, and it is usually cold.
I love this visit for a number of reasons. It is our tradition—we started it in our family and it is neat to claim that. It is unusually Catholic for a community-wide Christmas celebration. It is refreshing rather than overwhelming. St. Nicholas visits (not Santa)! I love it because it really has not changed in the time that we have been going.
This is the day that we will choose our Christmas tree. We will drive into the mountains and enter into the spirit of preparation and in some ways it feels like a step back in time. We know just which shop makes the spicy cinnamon candies and we will watch old, Norse dance troupes perform on the creaky, wooden town hall floor in traditional dress. My inner-Minnesotan is nourished.
It is a great metaphor for the story we re-enter each Advent: the Christmas story. Ever ancient, ever new—this story is unchanging. The celebration comes full circle. The paradox is that we cannot remain the same.
God humbly enters into our lives and we are forever changed.
I know that I have fumbled over this question (both during Advent and Lent): “I thought Jesus was already born/already crucified, why are we acting like it hasn’t happened before?” I also know that I stumble upon the answer anew each year. We re-enter the story because at its core, the story of the Nativity is our story, too. Our identity is grounded in the deep love and humility of a God who will not be separated from us. Because no matter how many times the Christ child enters our lives, it is different, new and it is worth great celebration.