Our Favorite Christmas Traditions
“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house, we go!” We asked our pastors and their wives about their favorite Christmas traditions and memories. Enjoy reading what has made Christmas special to them!
What is one of your favorite Christmas traditions that helped point you or your family to Christ?
Pastor Vradenburgh: For many years, my mother would make delicious date nut bread and give it to some neighbors or dedicated Christian servants. We were a large family with eight children, so we were poor by most standards. Nuts were very expensive to buy, so I remember taking black walnuts from a tree by our gravel driveway and using a hammer and nail pick to get the kernels out of the shell. My mother was most appreciative, and it was a joy to know that I had a part in what we did for others as a family at Christmastime. By the way, people really looked forward to getting Lola Vradenburgh’s date nut bread at Christmas!
Rachel Vradenburgh: We always read the Christmas story from the Bible, but for each of the past few years, my husband has also prepared a special devotional for the grandchildren. While it’s on their learning level, all of the adults enjoy it too as it contains interesting facts that we’ve not heard before about this very special time!
Pastor Peterson & Linda Gail: We always eat Christmas dinner at Gogo and Greatdaddy’s house in Rocky Mount. The adults all ate at the dining room table. The cousins eat in the same room but at the “cousin table” (a card table off to the side). While the adults cleaned the kitchen and put the food away, the cousins sorted the gifts and put them in the seat where they would sit. Then, when we were all together, Greatdaddy read the Christmas story from Luke 2.
Pastor DeAngelo: My favorite Christmas tradition is on Christmas morning where we read the Christmas story – Luke 2:1-20 – and have prayer … every year before we open presents.
Kelly DeAngelo: One Christmas tradition we’ve done is to put last year’s Christmas cards in a basket near our kitchen table in December. At dinnertime, one of the kids would pull out a random card, and we would pray for that family or person before our meal. If our kids didn’t know who they were, it helped bridge the connection for our kids to know our family and friends better. Side note: I save our Christmas cards each year with our Christmas decorations, and every year when we take them out, I’m reminded of so many wonderful people God has placed in our life!
Pastor Brent & Debi: Our favorite Christmas tradition is always reading the Christmas story from Matthew and Luke (only Luke growing up, but as a family, we read more when we had our own kids) before opening presents. We often expanded the reading beyond these to include John 1 and some others (Galatians 4). We enjoyed singing carols too. We had a candlelight service on Christmas Eve and did this from our first ministry and forward.
Pastor Kris: Our church would throw a Christmas party for residents at a local nursing home for people with mental disabilities. We would share the gospel, play simple kids’ games, and pass out presents. The joy they had when receiving a stuffed animal or hearing Christmas carols sticks in my mind. Those Christmas parties allowed me to experience the truth that it is more blessed to give than receive.
Bethany Wilder: I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents’ small Midwest church and playing the piano for them at Christmas.❤️ This isn’t a tradition, but one time we made ornaments with characteristics of God on them. My mom still has them.
Pastor Gustavo & Carolina: 1) During Christmas week, we read chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Luke. 2) The Christmas season changed when I understood the real meaning (Carolina).
What is a fun Christmas tradition you did with your family?
Pastor V: For several years in a row, our family of ten traveled from our home in Tennessee to spend Christmas with my grandparents in Louisiana. It was such a fun trip. One year we even had snow in central Louisiana! I loved to play chess with my grandfather. (He was a very patient man!) We would start the game on Thanksgiving and finish it on Christmas.
Rachel V: We enjoyed Christmas caroling! We’d also have a Christmas Eve celebration and invite anyone without a place to go after the service. Sometimes there were a whole lot of people at our house, but we loved every minute!
Pastor Peterson & Linda Gail: 1) At Granddaddy and Grandma’s house, we always have lots of bacon and the best waffles from a waffle machine that Mr. Julius Layton (one of the charter members) gave us circa 1969. He worked for Sears Roebuck, and some man returned that waffle machine because it wouldn’t work. So brother Julius fixed it and gave it to us. Believe it or not, it still makes great waffles today! The grandchildren have told me they’re going to “trade me in” if it ever stops working! 2) One other fun thing at Christmas is “The Candy Tree!” Years ago, when the grandkids were young, I found M & M Christmas lights at Lowe’s Home Improvement store. I put them on a small tree about 4 1/2 feet tall and clipped real candy all over the tree with tiny clothes pins. The rule was the grandchildren could eat the candy any time and as much as they wanted. The only rule was no candy paper thrown on the floor. They still enjoy that tree today – it’s theirs!
Pastor D: 1) I loved Christmas Eve at my dad’s parent’s house (they were Italian). Their tradition was an Italian seafood feast! Then, on Christmas day, my mom’s family would gather in the afternoon. Of course, I enjoyed opening presents at all the gatherings. 2) Our own family would sometimes drive through neighborhoods to see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. For our kids, one of our biggest Christmas morning highlights is giving them a fun Christmas stocking full of stocking stuffers that they really enjoy and look forward to.
Kelly D: One Christmas tradition I enjoyed growing up is my Grandma June’s “Money Pudding.” After our Christmas dinner and presents, she served this treat to all the grandchildren. She sterilized a bunch of coins and hid them in her special recipe of “money pudding” (a steamed cake-like figgy pudding dessert) with a tasty white warm sweet sauce poured on top. We carefully poked through the dessert with our forks, hoping to find a quarter, dime, or nickel! Looking back, I’m not sure how safe this was, but not one of us ever choked! She let us make several trips for “seconds” to the kitchen and acted surprised when we showed her the coins we found. She always claimed that she never knew how they got there!
Pastor Brent: We had to rent a community center for our “Big Brondyke” family get-togethers growing up. My dad’s family was ten kids and all their children (I had 26 cousins on that side). We also enjoyed baking our Christmas cookies. Debi and I started this when we married (maybe a little before).
Pastor Kris: Our family watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” each year on Christmas Eve.
Bethany Wilder: We watch “White Christmas” together every Christmas Eve. It was a tradition led by my grandpa, who is now with Jesus. I can’t watch without thinking of him. Despite watching it so many times, I love the movie and appreciate it more now that I’m older than I did as a kid! 😆
Pastor Gustavo & Carolina: 1) We enjoyed visiting both families (Diaz / Mora) on the same day … it was fun but overwhelming. We had to eat in both houses … double meals (hahahaha) 2) One Christmas season, when I was a child, I had tamales for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Loved that! (Pastor Gustavo)
What is your favorite Christmas song, and why?
Pastor V: My favorite Christmas song is not really thought of as a carol but a hymn. It is Henry Barraclough’s “Ivory Palaces.” I first heard this hymn played on a recording by the Wilmos Csechy family, who could play the strings beautifully. I learned the lyrics and then learned to play it on the piano. It speaks so poignantly of the great condescension of Jesus to come to earth to be our Savior. The music is equally beautiful and fitting. Whenever I hear it, it evokes memories of worship-filled moments of the past.
Rachel V: My favorite is “O Holy Night.” One of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas includes hearing my mother sing “O Holy Night” in church. It was requested every year, and I thought she sounded like an angel singing – it was absolutely breathtaking. Listening to the words gave such imagery to the Christmas story, and when she would sing the chorus of “Fall on your knees,” I truly felt it was the response we should have to our Savior’s birth.
Pastor Peterson & Linda Gail: I don’t know if we have a favorite; we love them all! “Ring the Bells” is one of our favorites, though.
Pastor D: I love “O Holy Night” – I think it is beautiful. I also have always liked “What Child is This?” And for some haunting reason, I enjoy “Mary Did you Know?”
Kelly D: My favorite is also “O Holy Night” – the words, music, and message.
Pastor Brent: “My favorite is “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming” – beautiful music and words. Also, my favorite secular song is Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
Debi B: I can’t pick a favorite!
Pastor Kris: My favorite is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – rich theological lyrics (“born that man no more may die”)
Bethany Wilder: I love the lines “Long lay the world in sin and error pining til He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees!” from “O Holy Night.”
Pastor Gustavo & Carolina: Our favorite is, “Feliz Navidad” (José Feliciano)
Do You Like Egg Nog?
Debi B, Pastor D, Kelly D, and Rachel V – “Yes, love it!”
Pastor V, Pastor Brent, Pastor Kris – 50/50 – “I can take it or leave it.”
Bethany W, Pastor Peterson & Linda Gail – “No, yuck!”
Other Christmastime Memories
Pastor Peterson & Linda Gail: 1) Over the years, we purchased Christmas characters that sang and danced (noisemakers!). Characters like snowmen, Santas, singing Christmas trees, and chipmunks, to name a few. There were 20 or more! The kids loved to go through the house and get them activated all at the same time. Finally, we are ready to let them divide them up and take them to their homes (for their children are great-grandchildren!). 2) Another fun tradition is setting up Eddie’s old Lionel electric train from his childhood. Our children enjoyed setting it up; it still runs after 75 years of use!
Pastor Brent: 1) I began reading “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” every Christmas for all the elementary classes, which started about 25 years ago. I don’t really “read” it anymore 😆 2) I have the same stocking I did when I was a kid. As I recall, I preemptively claimed it from the others we had (it has a cool Santa scene on it) when I was young, so it sort of “became” mine … 3) One year when Mikah was getting old enough for an adult-sized bike, we got him a new, very nice bike. Of course, we got Evan some very nice presents too, but one he didn’t appreciate was putting a bow on Mikah’s old bike (which was a really nice bike and still in excellent condition) and giving it to him. He still jokes about that!
Pastor Kris: Bethany and I have announced the coming of both of our girls to their grandparents during the Christmas holidays.
Bethany Wilder: I grew up in a pastor’s home, and we had a couple of older vehicles. One Christmas, a church family called my dad one evening and said, “Your Christmas present is outside.” When we walked outside, we found a brand new-to-us beautiful blue minivan WITH a VHS player inside!🤩 So fun and exciting, and so generous of that family.