This is my idealized childhood Christmas memory. It’s about 9:00pm, and our church’s Christmas Eve service is over. Everyone has finally left the building, except for my family. We are always the last to leave: we’re the pastor’s family. But tonight, instead of loading up the car and heading home, we go into the church bathroom where all four kids change into warm pajamas, then load into the station wagon, and off we go, beginning the 14-hour drive from upstate New York to my grandparents’ house in suburban Chicago. We’ll be there in time for Christmas dinner, and presents.
I’m a multigenerational pastor’s kid (often referred to as “PKs” in pastoral families). My dad is a pastor. My maternal grandfather is a pastor and a former missionary. And while growing up in a clergy family means you are often more religiously observant than the average Christmas and Easter family, it usually also means that your family’s traditions around the holidays are somewhat malleable. We were all so busy around Christmas, travel had to be arranged around the Christmas worship schedules; and, for the sake of sanity, my parents had to let go of some things that other families might think of as non-negotiable traditions (I was shocked to learn that some families have a huge dinner on Christmas Eve. Who’s got the time to roast a goose when you’ve got to stick 400 candles into their little paper wax-catchers?).