Blessed Be the Tie That Binds
My Mother-in-law started the tradition of fondue on Christmas Eve when Jody, my husband, was a small boy. She wanted to bring her family together, over a special meal, to enjoy each other’s company, slow down the hectic pace of the holidays, and celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was a tremendous success! That meal became her family’s tradition, and my husband doesn’t remember a Christmas Eve without it. When Jody and I were dating, I joined his family on a number of Christmas Eves. I had grown up fondueing, so the meal was familiar to me. If you have never fondued, it is really simple – everyone gets to cook! First, you pour a mixture of various oils and seasonings into a pot. You then heat it up. Next, you place the fondue pot in the center of the table so that everyone can reach it. Small plates of raw meat and uncooked veggies are placed at everyone’s seat. Using long forks, specially made for fondue, everyone places chunks of chicken, steak or vegetables into the pot. Everyone cooks the selection to their desired doneness. Then, with a variety of dipping sauces placed around the table, every cook can excite the taste buds and add to their experience! Fondueing is a slow, leisurely way to enjoy a meal. Conversations abound as everyone waits for their own selection to cook – fondue easily turns a thirty-minute meal into a two-hour extravaganza!
When I was growing up, my family’s Christmas Eve tradition included attending a midnight candlelight Christmas Eve service. When we returned home in the wee hours of the morning, we would find that Santa had visited. We had great fun opening the presents! I loved this tradition! So when Jody and I married, we readily agreed that we wanted Christmas traditions that would reflect our faith in God, our joy over the birth of His son, Jesus, and bind our two families into one. We talked about continuing both his family’s and my family’s traditions. I welcomed Jody’s family tradition, and he welcomed my family’s tradition. And, we created some other new ones of our own.
Starting out in the military, Jody and I were seldom near home for Christmas. So, we would invite friends over and fondue on Christmas Eve. During the course of the leisurely meal, conversations often turned to deeper matters – the reason for Christmas and how faithful God had been to each family represented. After Jody and I began raising children, three in three years (whew), we moved fondue to a midnight affair. We would first play Santa and build tricycles, etc. Then we would enjoy a midnight candlelight fondue – just the two of us. It was wonderful! It permitted us to slow down and look into each other’s eyes and remember the real meaning of Christmas – a celebration of God’s gift, Jesus, to us. Midnight fondue was a beautiful and quiet moment between my husband and I before the fun and excitement of Christmas morning with three little ones!
Over the years, I have worked to perfect the fondue menu (I will send out the menu in an e-mail message to all Word Washed Wife subscribers looking for a new family tradition). Also over the years, I have tried a few variations to enrich the tradition; some have stuck, others not so much. After our youngest turned six, Jody and I started to include the kids in the fondue tradition. We kept the candlelight part of Jody’s and my fondue dinner. I loved it too much to get rid of it – it added a super special feel to the night. Our kids loved the candles too. Keeper! For a while, Jody and I had our children prepare a song or skit before the meal. This did not stick. A decade ago I added to the meal Christmas Poppers, which are little cylinder-shaped goodie bags that look beautiful seated on a plate. When opened, they POP and set a very festive mood. This has stuck! After fondue, my husband reads the Christmas story from Luke as we all snuggle around on the couches and bask in the glow of Christmas lights. Definite keeper! As our family has grown, we have added a second pot to the fondue dinner. One pot still has oils; the other has an oil-free broth. We added this only three years ago. The jury is still out, but it is looking favorable. We also have a very specific Christmas play list highlighting “A Charlie Brown Christmas” during the meal. Keeper! Christmas Eve fondue is a very formal meal using every piece of crystal and china I have. The place settings befit a King. Keeper!
Over Christmas Eve fondue, conversations range from the surface catch-up to deep faith-based topics. Everyone’s opinion is heard, valued and discussed. I don’t believe we have ever discussed presents, or the commercial aspects of Christmas – only family and faith. If you ask our children, they will probably say that Christmas Eve fondue is their favorite holiday tradition. Our fondue dinner has become such a tie that binds our family together that it has been the backdrop for monumental family events. In 2011, our oldest son proposed to his wife over this meal – he hid her ring in a Christmas Popper. A couple of years later, and right before fondue, our daughter and her husband shared the exciting news that our first grandchild was on his way. To me and my family, Christmas Eve has many beautiful family memories; it is definitely one of the things that binds us all together. And, Jody and I made sure that each of our newlywed couples got a fondue pot – so that the Christmas Eve fondue tradition would live on. Actually, Jody and I fought over who got the pleasure of presenting our children with this gift J!
I’m not sure my mother-in-law knew what she was starting, but her Christmas Eve fondue tradition has done exactly what a holiday tradition should do! Good traditions should bind your family together so that you can celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. Fondue may not be your thing at all, but as you prepare for this upcoming holiday, make what your "thing" should be a matter of prayer and intentional planning. Money and gift-giving should not be your focus. And come January, you should not be saddled with a heap of debt. Instead, become the keeper of a host of new beautiful memories. Sit down with your spouse and discuss the meaningful parts of the holidays, both culturally and spiritually, that you celebrated when growing up. Discuss what parts of your family traditions you would like to keep, and what new ideas you would like to try. Ask each other how you can incorporate the truth of the Gospel into your celebration. Ask how you can celebrate the truth of Jesus and love your family, your church and your community well. These are tricky questions, and only you can answer them. But, they are well worth your time! To get your creative juices flowing, here are some things my family tried over the years:
1) Gospel Object Lessons. A few days before Christmas, my family piled in the van and drove over to a friend’s house for dinner. Jody pretended that we were lost. Initially the kids were a little scared. He asked the kids for help us find our way there. The kids brainstormed how we could navigate. Using the stars came into the conversation, as well as stopping to ask for help. And of course, looking over a road map (I realize that today we would use GOOGLE MAP directions from our phone 😊 but it worked back in the 90s). Then we discussed the journey of the WISEMEN following the star and how the Bible is able to help us guide our steps through life. We did many other object lessons through the years, like the night we pretended to lose power and discovered how the brightness of the light from a single candle could illuminate the entire room. The sky is the limit. But don’t waste an opportunity to use this holiday to highlight the Gospel!
2) Secrets of Gift Giving. When the kids were school-age, we would give each child $20 and take them to the store to shop for their siblings. We would encourage them to think about things their brother or sister would enjoy and make them feel “known and loved.” These are the keys to good gift-giving. Good gift-giving has very little to do with the amount, but truly it is the thought that counts 😊!
3) Jars of Joy! A few months before Christmas, we would give each of our children a mason jar. We would encourage them to put in any and all lose change that they found. A few days before Christmas, we would tie ribbons on each jar and anonymously drop them off at the doorstep of someone in need.
4) Christmas Cookie Baking Contest. My adult children all enjoy baking. They are also very competitive. This past Christmas, we had a bake-off. Everyone baked a few dozen cookies and presented a sample of them anonymously before a select panel of judges. My father-in-law was the head judge, a job he didn’t mind for at all J! He tasted the cookies and chose the winner. The prize: bragging rights for a whole year. The next day, we wrapped-up the cookies and took them to the local food bank. So, the gift kept giving!
5) Here We Go a-Caroling! Invite friends to join you in singing carols to your neighbors! Very little preparation is needed. Sing the same 2-3 songs and have some fun spreading cheer. The addition of hand-held candles is great fun and keeps older children interested in the event. I also included a set of BONGOS to keep a child or two invested during a caroling event.
6) Christmas Ornament Exchange. Take one of your favorite Christmas ornaments, wrap it up and exchange it with good family friends. Include the whole family in deciding which ornament you would like to share. Before long, your tree will represent so many friends and families that you will need a second tree 😊! (or a third and a fourth- or a whole Christmas Forrest!)
7) Spread the Love! I loved spending a day in the kitchen with the kids making 4-5 Christmas favorites. I always included simple recipes so that everyone could participate. When all the goodies were made, my family boxed-up a sampling of each and delivered them to neighbors and friends!
8) Stage Right! Try out for a community Christmas play or a play at your church. Practicing, learning lines and performing together are great ways to make memories and spend time together.
Two years ago this New Year’s Eve, my wonderful mother-in-law went home to be with Jesus. I miss her tremendously, but I know that Granny would be pleased that I picked-up the torch of loving my family well and have continued her tradition of Christmas Eve fondue! Keep reading, friend, and get ready for the best holiday your family has ever had!
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6: 4-9
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.