A new Christmas tradition
Growing up, there was usually insufficient money to celebrate Christmas. But in spite of that, I loved Christmas.
The colour of the lights, the dazzling decorations, the spirit of generosity, joy and love. It all seemed so much more prevalent and tangible during this season.
When I married and had my own family, Christmas became a very significant event on our calendar. A lavishly decorated Christmas tree dominated our living room, surrounded by beautifully wrapped presents. Delightful squeals filled the house each morning as my children unwrapped a carefully selected gift, representing the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Christmas Day was filled with family, food and festivities.
But when I began working at The Salvation Army homeless youth shelter, Oasis, in the heart of inner-Sydney, our idea of Christmas was changed forever. For the young people at Oasis, Christmas was marked by despair rather than joy. The constant images of families, laughter, celebration and connection reminded them of the things absent from their lives.
So we decided to do something about it. We hired a venue, found a team of enthusiastic volunteers, cut hams, cooked turkeys, hung decorations, wrapped presents, and opened the doors!
The first year, 200 people turned up, and it was chaotic. We didn't have enough plates, so volunteers were washing them as soon as someone finished their meal, ready for the next guest. However, laughter, joy, and unrecognisable renditions of Christmas carols filled the venue that day.
Thirteen years on, The Salvation Army Sydney Christmas lunch now serves more than 1,200 people. While I no longer run the event, supporting this amazing community celebration continues to be the way our family celebrates Christmas.
So what led me to change the Christmas traditions that I treasured so much?
As a follower of Jesus, I couldn’t sit in the face of pain, poverty, and isolation, and do nothing. My faith, if it is genuine, demands that I make some response. I had no special experience or skills to host a Christmas lunch for 200 people, but we did what we could. Somehow, out of that willingness, a life-giving event emerged.
This is what God asks us to do – connect.
In the bible, it says this: "God helping you, take your everyday ordinary life and place it before God as an offering … those of us who are strong and able need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves 'How can I help?'" (Romans 12 – The Message)
Something beautiful has happened in my own family through opening our lives and Christmas to others. Our son, Nathan, has now left home and has his own young family. They live in and run a Salvation Army community house on an estate in a troubled area of Sydney. This year, they will be running their own Christmas Day event for the residents who live in that estate, encouraging people to connect and know they are not alone. In another area of Sydney, my daughter, Sarah, will be cooking Christmas dinner in a Salvation Army house where she works. It's a house for asylum seekers, all under the age of 18, who have travelled on their own to Australia. They are anxious and fearful, far away from family and friends.
What is the ultimate Christmas tradition and story? God demonstrating his desire to connect with us through the sending of Jesus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son..." (John 3:16)
This Christmas, I encourage you to establish new family traditions. Something that reflects giving, connection, and others, that can be passed from generation to generation. Invite a neighbour for Christmas lunch, place a present under the Kmart Wishing Tree, volunteer at a homeless shelter or community centre, donate food to your local Salvation Army centre, or buy a coffee for the homeless man you pass every day.
There are so many ways, it just takes your willingness to begin a new Christmas tradition.
By Major Robbin Moulds