Family Traditions: Christmas Trees and Emmanuel

Holiday traditions can feel like a lot of work, but they carry the blessing of drawing us close to God and to each other. We gather to celebrate God's goodness and remember his past faithfulness even while looking expectantly ahead. We remember in this season that God came to earth in love to draw us close to him.

Matthew 1:22-23 tells us, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)."

Each family embraces their own traditions that guide them to experience God's presence and unite them together to create lasting memories. Our family gathers each year to visit the Christmas tree farm. People ask me sometimes why we go through the trouble. The hour drive, the chilly days, the hassle of doing it all. To be honest, I cannot understand the question. It's all part of our life. This is a part of our shared experience, and I cherish it deeply every year. It moves me to think that this is the life my children get to enjoy. I am overwhelmed by the thought that my memories are their memories and that this moment is something we get to share together.

Build memories together

I recall stepping from the van and feeling the cold air meeting my face. Pulling on gloves and mittens, our four children ran in circles on the well-beaten grass. I zipped my coat and closed the door and we headed toward the farm. The fragrance of fresh pine filled the winter wind and the whole of it washed over me with memories long and clear. I remember…

  • As parents of one child, I carried him from place to place and set him down on unstable feet, watching him sit on piles of needles that clung to his pants and his flannel coat.
  • Coming with two kids on a snowy day, both of them crying as the flakes melted and drenched their tiny gloves and shoes.
  • Third child born, I watched my boys run through the fields grabbing branches in bunches and leaving with sap-sticky hands.
  • Watching my family complete, four children to love and enfold, walking confidently from tree to tree, hoping that theirs would be chosen this year.
  • Handing the saw to our oldest as he began the process of cutting our tree.

Maybe it would be easier to unpack a tree or choose off a local lot, but I am not looking for easier. I am looking for these moments, stacked upon one another, good and bad, beautiful and hard, set out for me to see. My family is growing up here right before my eyes. It is important to seize the moments that we have to delight in God's blessings and enjoy one another.

Point to Jesus

On the way home, we sip hot chocolate in the van and the tree is tied on top and I feel like my life is a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. We listen to Christmas music and my children sing and no one is too old and no one is too cool because this is who we are and it’s okay. With the highway before me, I hear my children sing, “Emmanuel. Emmanuel. Wonderful counselor. Lord of Life! Lord of all!” and the truth of Christmas becomes ever so real to me again. He is God with us, our Emmanuel. Here in the van. Out in the field. This truth is woven in these regular places and His name is blessed anew.

Find your tradition

Not every family has the tradition of getting a real Christmas tree, but every family can create traditions that draw the family together year after year. Your family may enjoy:

  • Caroling in the neighborhood or at a local nursing home.
  • Hosting an annual neighborhood party.
  • Attending a Christmas pageant or candle light service.
  • Baking cookies or holiday treats together.
  • Surprising each other with special gifts.
  • Lighting advent candles.
  • Singing Christmas carols together around the dinner table.

Choose to establish whatever traditions work best for your family. Don't worry about how other families choose to celebrate, this is not a competition. Don't worry about things being Pinterest-perfect. Find what works best for your own family to reconnect with Jesus and with each other this holiday. Take the time to delight in our God who draws near to us by drawing near to one another.

May your family find traditions together that draw you closer to God and to one another.

About the author — Nadia Swearingen-Friesen

Nadia Swearingen-Friesen is a writer and national speaker with a passion for empowering parents to approach their families with great intentionality and grace.  Nadia and her husband, Mark, are the parents of four children and live in the Chicago area. Nadia also blogs at

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