Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Special Holiday Feature: The Importance of Family Traditions by J.M. Hochstetler


"The Importance of Family Traditions" by J.M. Hochstetler, author of One Holy Night

When my daughters were tiny, with the holidays fast approaching, I impulsively decided that on the night of Christmas Eve, when they were fast asleep, I would hang candy canes all over our tree as a sign that Santa had come. Well, that idea turned out to be a huge success. When my little girls ran downstairs that Christmas morning, they were so excited to find the treats on the tree that I knew I’d come up with a very special tradition.

Over the years, as holidays came and went, I continued my secret Christmas Eve ritual. As they grew older, however, the children appeared to take less and less notice of the candy canes. They would eat only a few, and then after we took the tree down I ended up throwing most of them away. It seemed a waste. So one Christmas I thoughtlessly came very close to letting that tradition die.

That year I was so busy with holiday preparations and the day-to-day routine that I kept forgetting to pick up a package of candy canes at the store. It seemed like such a simple, unimportant thing. The girls were too old to care about my little tradition anymore, I told myself and I shrugged off the quiet voice that nagged at me to get those candy canes!

One evening just a couple of days before Christmas, I was rushing around the house, as usual, burdened with too many holiday preparations. In spite of my preoccupation, I happened to notice my oldest daughter, Jennifer, who sat on the stairs with my youngest, Katie. Both were snuggled in their nightgowns, slippers, and robes, happily taking in our cozy living room before heading off to bed.

Below them, fire blazed on the hearth and colored lights twinkled on the tree. Holiday decorations were arranged everywhere, and pine garlands and tiny white lights draped the mantel as well as the banister on either side where they sat. The scene was so perfect that I stopped for just a moment to breathe in the heady scents of pine and spices and to bask in the room’s glow. And as I lingered, I overheard what the girls were whispering about.

“Now, you know,” Jennifer told her little sister, “on Christmas morning when Santa comes, he always hangs candy canes all over the tree.”

Katie’s eyes grew round. “Always?” she breathed, in sweet expectancy.

“Oh, yes, always,” Jennifer assured her with the easy confidence of a big sister. “There will be candy canes all over the tree on Christmas morning. You’ll see.”

My heart almost stopped. One look at my daughters’ faces told me that I’d better plan on a special trip to the store the very next day. And suddenly gratitude flooded over me at the realization that the Lord had pulled me up short from my preoccupation with all the things that seemed so urgent to remind me of something I had come way too close to missing—a tradition that was genuinely meaningful to my children.

On that Christmas morning and every Christmas morning since then to this very day, candy canes have adorned my Christmas tree. My grown children expect to see them there when they arrive Christmas morning every bit as much as my grandchildren now do. It’s a tradition I wouldn’t think of ending. Because of that simple, long-ago impulse and the Lord’s reminder to be faithful in its observance, my family is making memories that in one form or another will be passed down to coming generations. It’s a simple thing as many of our traditions are, but oh, how meaningful!

J. M. Hochstetler writes stories that always involve some element of the past and of finding home. Born in central Indiana, the daughter of Mennonite farmers, she graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Germanic languages. She was an editor with Abingdon Press for twelve years and has published four novels. Daughter of Liberty (2004), Native Son (2005), and Wind of the Spirit (March 2009), the first three books of the critically acclaimed American Patriot Series, are set during the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a retelling of the Christmas story set in modern times, is the 2009 Christian Small Publishers Fiction Book of the Year and a finalist for the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Long Contemporary Book of the Year.

Hochstetler is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, Nashville Christian Writers Association, and Historical Novels Society. She and her husband live near Nashville, Tennessee.

You can find Joan online at or at this book’s blog

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