ESK Christmas Traditions – Part 5

As part of the season of Advent, ESK teachers and staff memories shared some of their most cherish memories and traditions as part of the daily Chapel services. We are bringing those stories to the blog this week as we prepare for Christmas. Today, we hear from middle school teacher Amanda Sharpe. 


My first year of marriage, I lived in Spain. That meant I spent my first Christmas married in Spain, which was great for a lot of reasons:

  1. We didn’t have to put up decorations!! WooHoo! No tangled lights, no pine needles shedding from the tree, no cussing when we plugged in the lights and they didn’t work.
  2. We didn’t have to decide whether to spend Christmas with my family or with my husband’s family. Definitely a plus – no one mad at us for choosing the other family.
  3. We didn’t eat turkey on repeat at all the holiday meals.
  4. I didn’t have to buy presents for my family members. Cha-ching – money in my pocket!
  5. I didn’t have to deal with the unwanted yet ever-present emotions of family gatherings.

Sounds like a vacation from holiday stress, huh! But, I experienced some negatives that Christmas, too:

  1. The town we lived in featured minimal decorations that only started lighting up a few days before Christmas. People in Spain don’t decorate with Christmas trees.
  2. I only had Andrew, my husband, to spend Christmas with – no hugs from moms and dads, no puppies, cousins, grandmas or new babies to visit.
  3. I didn’t eat a single bite of turkey.
  4. We didn’t have ANY money to buy presents. My job paid a modest stipend that covered basic living expenses- and that was it. No packages glittering, waiting for me under the tree.
  5. Around that time I also realized what it meant to be married. This person I’d said “I do” to wasn’t going away. He’d be there at every Christmas! What had I done?

So, when the church we’d been attending announced that they would host a Christmas day lunch after the morning service, I wrote our names on the list immediately, followed by what we’d bring to the potluck. Let’s think about this – a Christmas potluck. What would you expect to eat at a Christmas feast?

So I envisioned honey roasted ham, warm yeast rolls, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and cranberries. I knew, just knew, that bringing sweet potatoes and pumpkin cheesecake bars would round out the menu. I searched high and low for sweet potatoes, which are uncommon in Spain, and emailed my mom for her sweet potato casserole recipe.

Finally, I thought, this feels (and smells!) like Christmas.

On Christmas morning we loaded the car. I nestled the pan of sweet potatoes on the back seat, and stashed the pumpkin cheescake bars next to them – our contributions to a communal Christmas meal.

I started to have an inkling that the meal wouldn’t live up to my expectations when we hit the roundabout to head out of town.

You know what a roundabout is right? Where cars go around the traffic circle until they reach the exit they need?   Where stopping isn’t required to enter the flow of traffic? Where aggressive drivers jam the gas in order to enter the stream of traffic? Well, when Andrew squealed the tires as he advanced into the lane, he also sent the lovingly prepared sweet potato casserole flying. It spattered on the door and seeped onto the floorboards of our RENTED car.

In that moment I felt my throat tighten up. Tears came on hot and fast after a December of self-pity. Here in the ruined casserole I thought I saw the reality of Christmas this year – far from friends and family, from the ugly sweater parties, and the white elephant gift exchanges. Who cries on Christmas? Isn’t it the happiest day of the year? I did – I cried on Christmas when I saw the orange goo plastered to the floorboard because I wanted my regular Christmas back.

We arrived to the service with a salvaged casserole (some of which we scooped up off the floorboard and slapped back into the dish). Stashing my contributions in the kitchen, I realized it could all turn around yet. As we listened to the sermon, I tried to focus on the Good News of Christmas, but was only anticipating the meal afterward.

Finally, it was time for dinner. The moment came for us to go through the serving line, to load my plate with delicious holiday fare. That’s when it dawned on me that things could also continue to go south. Today could get worse than a casserole disaster. To my utter dismay the main course for Christmas this year was-

Any ideas?


Have you even eaten a side of sweet potato casserole alongside a bowl of spaghetti? The two flavors don’t complement each other all that well.

I racked my brain – what did I miss? Did the menu items get lost in translation? My face burned in embarrassment.

Later I realized I only had myself to blame for thinking that my Christmas season had been ruined. I got caught thinking that Christmas was only Christmas if the traditions I knew were part of the celebration. I lost the pure joy and wonder of the season. The wonder that the Son of God, the baby Jesus, was born on Christmas day. Rejoice! No matter your circumstances!

I believed that Christmas was only Christmas if it came packaged the way I expected. But the truth is that the baby Jesus came regardless of time or place, and our joy, our eager expectation, of his arrival isn’t dependent on time or place, either. Embrace the season of Christmas knowing that it isn’t about you, that it is about Christ, and his arrival, the arrival of the savior of the world. Be open to new traditions, but recognize that a tradition doesn’t make a celebration. You never know what new customs or perspectives you might learn when you don’t expect for everything to follow the same script as last year. Try something new this holiday season, and know that around the world people are celebrating and rejoicing in the same events in their own unique way.