This year seemed a break in tradition for me.
Most of the extended-family Christmas gatherings that I remember happened on or after Christmas. There would be road trips, gift-giving, big meals, and lots of meetings with relatives.
This year, the family elected to gather the weekend before Christmas. It worked, mostly because everyone involved had Monday/Christmas-Eve off.
The past two years have seen gatherings that mix sadness with joy. Of my three surviving grand-parents: one is in rapidly-declining mental health and lives in the mental-care wing of a nursing facility; another suffers from declining physical health and loneliness due to a spouse living in the mental-care wing of a nursing facility; a third has a declining sense of balance and needs surgery to correct back pain.
That made for two things which were different than the usual. The schedule, and the presence and health of the heads of the family.
I am glad to say that the celebration still went well. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and children-of-cousins all celebrated. (Let's see...a cousin of my generation has a child, so that child is a cousin-once-removed. Or something.)
One tradition that I am happy is still alive: in the preparation for the giving of gifts and celebration, the immediate family has long celebrated the season of Advent. My parents would read a series of Bible stories to the family, travelling from Adam to the birth of Christ (meeting Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Josiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and others along the way).
Each story would be read over breakfast on a specific day of Advent, after the lighting of candles on the Advent wreath.
The readings remind us of the path that led from Creation to the birth of Jesus, as well as the culture and history of the Jewish people. It also served as an antidote to the Winter-Festival effect, in which celebrating the birth of Christ feels lost in wintertime fun and gift-giving. (Not to say that wintertime is not fun, nor to say that gift-giving and celebration aren't enjoyed...just that Christmas is about something bigger than those things.)
Even though I no longer live with my parents, I am happy to know the tradition goes on. I joined the family for breakfast when I could.
I wish Christmas is made merry by all; and that all remember the little child whose birth became a hinge-point in history.