As I write, Christmas is right around the corner and we have been contemplating how we will celebrate Christ's glorious birth this year. In addition to the spiritual meaning of the season, December has become a time of nostalgia in our home, as we look back on the happy times when our children were young and our parents and other loved ones were with us. How quickly those precious occasions came and went. To help us recapture the joys of Christmas past and present, I have been rereading a book written by my wife, Shirley, and our daughter, Danae. It is entitled Welcome to Our Table and is filled with recollections, recipes and stories that may be meaningful to those of you who haven't read it. Here are several excerpts that I hope will help you get into the spirit of Christmas in your own family.
A Christ-Centered Family Christmas by Shirley Dobson
Christmas has grown so commercialized that it's difficult to keep the focus on the true meaning of the celebration—even in a house of faith. So, when our children were still young, Jim and I started traditions to help us keep the birth of Christ at the center of Christmas, and some of them have continued to this day.
On Christmas Eve, our family and friends enjoy a wonderful meal which is a setting for warm conversation together. Afterward, we gather around the fireplace as Jim reads the story of Christ's birth from the Bible (Luke 2). Then we dim the lights, and I give each person a small votive candle. As the candles begin to glow,
I explain that Jesus is the Light of the World who came to bring hope and eternal life to His followers (John 8:12). Then we take turns describing blessings for which we are thankful, and sharing something we are asking God to do in our lives in the coming year. After that, we blow out our candles and Jim closes in prayer.
This is only one of our traditions that is very meaningful to us. They aren't unique, but they help us emphasize two vital themes of the Christmas story—the celebration of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection, and the love we share for one another and the entire human family.
One Christmas Eve stands out among our memories. Jim and I were mindful that this Holy season can be a lonely time for those who do not have family or close friends nearby. That awareness led us to invite an elderly widow in our church to join us on Christmas Eve. Her name was Mamie Hendricks, and she and her husband had been missionaries for many years in the Virgin Islands. When we called and invited Mamie to join us for our celebration dinner, she bubbled over with excitement.
Our guest that night was the center of attention. The conversation focused entirely on Mamie as she shared stories about her husband and children. Danae and Ryan were fascinated by this grandmotherly lady who had lived such an adventurous life. Then Mamie opened a box she had brought with her. In it were three large family scrapbooks she had created and kept through the years. She went through every page with us. It was apparent that no one else had been willing to take this nostalgic journey back in time.
Mamie told us how much she loved her husband, and how he died while fishing on a rock by the seashore. A huge wave had come and knocked him into a swirling surf. With that, Rev. Hendricks was gone. Though it had been many years since the tragedy, Mamie still grieved over her loss. She described their life on the mission field and told us about people they had led to the Lord. Jim and I and our kids were captivated by what we heard and felt. We thought the evening with this dear widow would be our gift to her, but she contributed much more to each of us. Mamie is now in heaven, but I cherish that evening we spent together.
As we all look forward to our holiday plans, may I encourage you to invite a lonely person, perhaps someone who is older or a single adult to join you? The Scripture teaches that it is fitting and proper for believers to welcome others into their homes. Here are some of those references:
• "Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13).
• "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2 KJV).
• "…is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord's people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds" (1 Timothy 5:10).
• "Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined" (Titus 1:8).
• "Use hospitality one to another without grudging" (1 Peter 4:9 KJV).
These verses leave no question about the importance of being gracious to others by inviting them into our homes. 3 John 8 reads, "We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth." In short, being kind to others provides an opportunity to introduce the love of Jesus to those who might not know Him. "Therefore, as we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:10).
A Tradition of Faith by Danae Dobson
I have always loved Christmas traditions because they bring a sense of identity to our family—and for us, that identity is decidedly Christian. Every tradition that we enjoy during the holidays is repetitive. The menus are the same, and my dad invariably says "grace" before we eat our delicious festive meals. On Christmas Eve, he usually reads the Christmas story from the Book of Luke, and glowing candles symbolize Jesus as the Light of the World. Two pieces of dried cranberries are distributed to everyone around the table, and a basket is passed to each member. Each child four years of age or older and every adult expresses thanks to God for two special blessings as the cranberries are dropped into the basket. These and other special traditions remind us of the birth of the Christ child, and we look forward to this celebration for months.
My friend, Karen, has done similar things in her family. As a mother of six, she prioritizes the birth of Christ for her family. One of the ways she does this is by setting up a nativity scene in early December and purposely leaving the manger empty. Then on Christmas morning, one of her children is given a small package to open. It has the baby Jesus inside. That child then places Jesus in the manger, and the family holds hands and sings "Happy Birthday" to the King of Kings!
Another great tradition was described in an article I once read. The writer shared that when Christmas is over and it comes time to toss the tree (a sad thought, I know), her father cuts off two pieces of the trunk and saves them until Easter. When the celebration of Jesus arrives, he nails the wood together to form a cross and drives it into the backyard lawn. The cross reminds his family of the connection between Christ's birth and His resurrection. In my family, not only did my parents celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, but they also sought to express love and neighborliness to others. They described an era from their childhoods that was much more caring than in the frantic world of today.
Back then, it was typical for friends and relatives to drop by unexpectedly for a visit. My dad talks about how common it was when he was growing up to hear a knock on the screen door and someone calling out, "Anybody home?" His mother would welcome the visitor with a cheerful "Come on in!" and then hurry to put the coffee pot on the stove. After she served her guest cookies or a slice of pie from the refrigerator, which was referred to as an icebox in those days, she and her visitor would sit in the living room and chat. The visit required no appointment.
Those friendly days are gone now, or at least they're not as common. Twenty-first century life is not conducive to unexpected interruptions in the hustle and bustle of nonstop activity. I wish neighbors could rediscover some of the warm, hospitable traditions of the past. It is for that reason that my mother and I have written this book, Welcome to Our Table. Hospitality and expressions of human kindness are simply too important to be overlooked.
Our objective is to provide ideas and illustrations to help you reach out to others in love and friendship. Whether you are serving a lavish meal with flowers and candles, or whipping up a few refreshments for Bible study, God wants to use you (and your home) to minister to the needs of others. Your children will benefit too as they see you model what it means to exemplify the love of Christ.
I have to say that my mother is a class act when it comes to entertaining guests. I've seen her host everything from neighborhood get-togethers to formal luncheons for her National Day of Prayer Task Force. She's all about details! Each event is thoughtfully considered, and she always makes sure Christ is the unseen guest at every meal. Years ago, she co-authored the book with Gloria Gaither entitled Let's Make a Memory. In it she and Gloria shared many of their family traditions that came from their own creativity. Yes, my mom is a veteran at hospitality, and I'm thrilled to have her contribute to this book. Can you tell I'm a proud daughter?
One of the ways that I like to show love and kindness to my family and friends is by baking. Creating homemade goodies has been a hobby of mine ever since my parents presented me with a battery-operated Easy-Bake Oven at the age of five. I remember staring into the orangey glow of the oven's plastic window and waiting eagerly for the chocolate cake to finish baking. It seemed to take forever!
As I've grown older, food continues to be associated with warm memories. I was going through my mom's recipe box for this book, and discovered some yellowed handwritten cards. Let me close my part of this article by sharing one of my all-time favorite recipes. It is my mom's instructions for baking the most delicious pumpkin chiffon pie. Try it, and then let us know what you think. I'm confident you'll like it.
Shirley's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie
• 1 baked 9-inch pie shell
• 1 tablespoon (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
• 1/4 cup cold water
• 1 1/2 cups pumpkin
• 1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
• 1/2 cup milk
• 3 eggs, divided
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
• 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
• Fresh whipped cream, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and chopped pecans or walnuts for garnish
Mix together gelatin and cold water. Set aside for 10 minutes.
In the top of a double boiler, mix together the pumpkin, brown sugar, milk, egg yolks, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Cook over the boiling water in the lower half of the double boiler for 10 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. After mixture has cooked for 10 minutes or so, add gelatin. Stir until dissolved. Chill until mixture begins to set. In a medium bowl, gradually beat the 3 egg whites. Slowly add 4 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 at a time. Beat until soft peaks form. Fold meringue into chilled pumpkin mixture. Pour into baked pie shell. Chill until set.
Serve garnished with fresh whipped cream, nutmeg, and chopped pecans or walnuts.
Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie
Warm greetings to you and yours.
I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of Christmas thoughts and ideas from my family. If you would like to have a copy of Welcome to Our Table autographed by both Shirley and Danae, it can be yours for a gift of any amount at drjamesdobson.org/christmas. We are also blessed this December with a matching grant, so your gift will have twice the impact while it lasts. All of the proceeds will go toward the funding of JDFI with our compliments.
Merry Christmas to you all! May the Spirit of Jesus permeate your home and family this season and throughout the new year. I'll write you again in January.
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