Lessons Learned from Dona: The Christmas Edition



Dona at Christmas

Dona was the consummate Christmas traditionalist.

That is, of a sort.

Her traditions weren’t the norm.  She celebrated Christmas in unexpected ways, with customs refreshingly inspired.  Learning was sure to follow.

Act Like You Like It Even Though You Hate It

I told my kids I was writing this blog, and two of them piped up with this lesson without hesitation.  It’s one I hadn’t been thinking of.  But she taught them, too.

And it’s an excellent lesson.

If someone has gone to the time, trouble, money, thought, and emotional investment to get you a present, then by all means, give a sincere thanks.  So it might not be something you would have chosen for yourself.  No matter.  That misses the point.  Gifts are not about material goods; they’re about relationship.

Gifts tell us something about the giver’s taste.  So at a baser level, if you think they have bad taste, guess what?  They chose you as a friend.  Hmm…

“Well,” you say, “they’re family.  I didn’t chose them.”

That’s right.  Only remember to not bash you own gene pool.

Hmm… again.

Practice this at Christmas:

“Thank you.”

Make Traditions Serve Meaning

Dona rejected traditions for their own sake.  She questioned each tradition, found its purpose – or not – and either rejected or transformed the tradition back to its meaning or to a new meaning.

For example, the Christmas Tree.

Why a tree in the house?  I know it is green but what else is about it?  How did that tradition get started?

Dona made decorating the tree into a time to think about Jesus.

Now allow me an aside.  Dona held Christmas as unapologetically a Christian holiday.  Lest you get bent out of shape about this Jesus business, please understand that Dona’s right.  It is a Christian holiday.  Don’t like that?  Find another holiday.

Or better yet, investigate this Jesus chap.

Back to the tree:  She called it a Jesus Tree.  First just us as a couple then the kids as they grew would have to say what each ornament meant about the person or mission of Jesus.  If an ornament was not tied to Jesus, it didn’t get on the tree – and still doesn’t to this day.


Christmas Cow

The evergreen tree itself reminds us that Jesus is everlasting.  The lights show Him as the light of the world.  A red ball ornament signified His blood shed for us.  And so on.  A Santa – that would be a ‘no’ and would go elsewhere in the house.

My favorite ornament is a tiny white ceramic cow.  Some cow two millennia ago lent its manger to a mother and child.  Not that the cow had much choice, but it reminds me just the same.

There are too many traditions to list but I’ll give one more example.  Each Christmas Eve, Dona would make a Jesus Meal.  We’d eat such things as Jesus might have eaten in first century Palestine.  It was invariably a simple meal, a respite from the rich chocolates and cookies of the season.  The meal was a time to think of how Jesus was a flesh and blood man, a real human.

Just like us.

Creativity Makes the Best Gifts

Our first year in Fort Smith was a slim-pickin’s Christmas.  I had just started practice.  Money was scarce.  We gave each other a $5 limit.  With restricted money, you get real creative.

I wrote Dona a short story and used the $5 for her stocking.  She cross-stitched me my favorite passage from my favorite Narnia book of The Horse and His Boy.  As we looked back on that Christmas, those gifts meant so much more because we each had to put something of ourselves into them.  We had to think and plan and create.


I Was the Lion

Dona liked to give themed Christmas presents.  Example:  One year Samuel wanted Superman.

Samuel got his Superman.  And did he!  We wrapped gifts that year in plain brown paper.

You know, “brown paper packages tied up with string.”  You know, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.  Keep up.

His package was constructed so that the top had the seam.  Under the bow was a big shirt button.  As Samuel pulled the paper apart at the button the Superman symbol appeared.


Well, I thought it was creative.  And Samuel remembers it to this day.

Christmas is a time for remembering the birth of Jesus.  Being thankful and creative can make this come alive for you and your family.

That’s the actual lesson I believe Dona would have.

Merry Christmas!


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  1. December 18, 2013 #

    Very inspiring! I’m not nearly as creative as Dona, but this inspires me to keep everything pointing to Jesus.

    • December 19, 2013 #

      Thanks Jeff. You know, it’s sometimes difficult to keep pointing to Jesus in Christmas traffic, but I’m trying.

  2. December 18, 2013 #

    Thank you for sharing these memories of Dona. I loved her and learned so much about living a life of faith in Christ from her. I did not, however, know these beautiful family traditions and they are inspiring. We were all blessed to have her in our lives. I thank God that she and your family were part of mine..

    • December 19, 2013 #

      Thank you, Ms. Turner. It must have been a mutual admiration, because Dona held you in high regard and counted it an honor to know you, as does the rest of our family still.

  3. December 19, 2013 #

    Awesome! Keeping Jesus in the traditions, I think, makes the season much less stressful. It makes it less likely for you to get swept up in the consumerism of the modern American Christmas.


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