How To Make Your Holidays More Meaningful

By Sam Jolman | December 11, 2014

“When you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breath upon them.” Cormac McCarthy

It doesn’t take much to make your holidays more meaningful. But it sure is easy to believe it does.

Our family was adopted last Thanksgiving by some friends and coworkers from a former life. As you know, doing so means getting caught up in how they do the day. Celebrating how they celebrate. And more importantly, eating what they eat. But I trusted these friends palate and so we went.

Just before dinner, all seventeen of us in attendance were corralled into the living room. “This will only take a minute,” Keith said. His son yelled from across the room, “Get the turkey hat!” Uh oh. What odd family ritual were we about to witness?

Getting that many people to quiet down with restless stomachs was no easy task. But we did soon enough. Suzanne, Keith’s wife, went around the room with a bowl that we had to draw numbers from. I got #15. Whew… at least I’ll have some time to prepare.

Keith sat in the center of the room, computer on his lap. “I don’t want to take long for this. I know all our stomachs are waiting to devour the beautiful spread we have. But we’ve got a tradition that we like to do here at in our household.”

“I grew up in an alcoholic home with no traditions whatsoever. Holidays were not a time to remember. And I vowed that one day when I had a family we would have traditions, just something meaningful to remember the holidays by and make memories.” Something deep from his heart infused his words. The man teetered on tears. Clearly he was bringing more than duty to this moment. This meant a lot to him.

He continued. “So I just want to share a passage from the Psalms and then take a few minutes to go around the room and share one thing you’re thankful for from the year. Oh, and you have to wear the turkey hat when you do.” 

What followed was pure poetry. Keith shared a few thoughts from a Psalm David wrote to express his gratitude to God. And then we in turn shared just a few sentences from the text of our lives from the past year. Yet even a few sentences brought laughter, tears, sighs of relief. It was a deeply heartfelt and rich time.

I listened with tears in my eyes. I don’t think anyone saw them and I tried to keep them at bay. But I could have flat out wept at this small act of family tradition.

It wasn’t the stories, although they tugged on my depths too. It was the act of one man, a father, who birthed out of his pain a resolve to make more meaning for his family. This was not some stage he needed for his ego or some dumb dutiful act of compliance to God. This was straight and pure an act of love and joy and redemption.

I think this season, this holiday season, inherently stirs a hunger for more meaning. We can feel that these holidays are indeed “Holy Days.” Days set apart. They compel some upward gaze of sorts, a lifting of our eyes. We can’t help but feel our insides open up and ask for more.

Its a hunger that gingerbread lattes and a 52 inch TVs at 40% off just won’t touch. Oh, they’ll try. We’re all going to be fed the thin anemic soup of consumerism a billion times.

And yet, who’s got time to create more meaning? It can feel like we have to become some spiritual giant, some pious saint. Or one of those Pintrest super humans with endless energy. I have never been able to successfully follow an advent reading. Never. I try every year. But I fall off the horse a few days in.

This is all wrong, this pressure to create some epic meaning.

Here’s the real meaning formula. “When you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breath upon them.” Thank you, Mr. Cormac McCarthy. Its an image that harkens back to God’s act of creating humanity. He gathered a bunch of clay in his hand, shaped

So you want more meaning? Do something. Try anything. Follow the thing that comes from your heart, the thing that gets you excited, the thing that comes to mind when you let your hunger talk. Ask God to be in it with you. And go do it. That’s it.

The year my wife and I were engaged, we spent Christmas with her family on the white beaches of Florida. By Christmas Eve I was restless. I’d had enough of the lighted palm trees and all the Christmas specials on TV at our rented condo. So Amanda and I jumped in the car to go for a drive.

It was night by this time. And we drove in a rain storm until we found the only place open: a gas station. What meaning can you create at a gas station? It looked grim. But we were desperate. So we went inside, just because we were there.

Standing in front of the cooler, an idea hit me. I grabbed a drink and some chips, paid, and we headed for the car. We drove a little further and pulled in the empty parking lot of a Barnes & Noble. I turned off the car, and we sat to the sound of falling rain.

I opened my chips, turned to Amanda and offered her one. “The Body of Jesus broken for you.” She laughed. But she partook and played right along. And we then we cracked the juice opened. “The blood of Jesus shed for you.”

It was almost nothing. But it lifted our hearts that evening to something more, to reverence the act of God come to earth.

Look, this can all feel like a lot. Like you’ve got to cook up some great human drama with costumes and live animals. You don’t. Just do something. Almost anything really. And let God blow on the embers. I think you’ll be grateful you did.


  • This is good stuff, Sam! Advent held so much meaning for me in Africa…no trappings whatsoever!!! Florida Christmases? Yah, I understand. All the kids are coming “home” to share one more Florida Christmas this year. I’ll let you know how God shows up and leads us all deeper toward His heart. May the Lamb of God enable gentle servant hearts in us all.


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