American-based correspondent JOE MONTAGUE speaks to a number
of US-based Christian artists about their Christmas experiences
- their traditions and how they will be spending Christmas
What memories do you have of Christmases past?
Ben Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): "Some
of my best memories of Christmas go back to the holidays we
spent at our grandparents’ home in Oklahoma (in the
United States). Their home is deep in the Kiamichi Mountains
in the south-eastern corner of the state. It is heavily wooded
and it is beautiful in the December snow. An assortment of
aunts, uncles, cousins gathered in the big log cabin in the
woods. The children would play for hours outdoors. On Christmas
Day, after a breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits cooked
to perfection (I don't exaggerate), gravy (of a variety even
I would eat), and fresh fruit salad, we would rush to the
mountain of presents (I'm still not exaggerating) and wait
for the adults to join us. The opening of gifts was a tedious
process that lasted until lunchtime. From that point on, games
ruled the day. Word games such as Balderdash and Scrabble
were a favorite along with trivia games and variations on
charades. One contest in particular was a hallmark. When dawn
broke the next day, the celebrations had ended, but the memories
remain vividly with me to this day."
Pierce (comedian, right): "There were four kids
in our small southern parsonage so our Christmases were always
surrounded with church activity. As soon as our duties were
completed we would make the long drive from South Carolina
to Kentucky to see my maternal grandparents, Nanny and Papaw.
It was very old fashion and very wonderful!"
Todd Agnew (singer/songwriter): "We
would go over to my grandmother’s house on Christmas
Eve where we would get to open our stockings. Looking back
at it you realise that the stockings shouldn’t have
been filled until Christmas Eve (he says with a hint of mischief
in his voice) because Santa would be coming that day. (He
laughs) but I didn’t care I just knew that we got our
stockings on Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house and that
we got them at home the next day. I had a small family just
my mom, dad, sister and me. I had one grandmother (who) lived
in town so she came over for Christmas. My sister would wake
me up and try dragging me to the Christmas tree because she
was an early riser. She wanted to get started with the presents.
We would recite the Christmas story and spend some time in
prayer just thinking that Jesus is really the reason why all
of this happened. It was about Jesus and it was about family
Lucas Parry (singer/songwriter): "All of my
Christmases were spent at home in Sydney (Australia) with
my parents, brothers and sisters. I had my first real ‘white
Christmas’ when I moved to the USA in 2002. It was funny
because even in Australia when Christmas is hot (summer),
we all sang the classic Christmas carols about snow and reindeer."
Some of my most special memories are waking up on Christmas
morning with a piece of string tied to my big toe or the end
of my bed. I would have to follow the string to find my presents.
My parents called this ‘The Santa String’. I would
eagerly follow the string all around the house, as it criss-crossed
with other colored strings that belonged to my brother and
sisters. It would go behind closed doors and cupboards (eventually
leading to) my neatly wrapped treasures. We would make our
way to my parents’ bed, presents in tow where we would
open them. Are there any special family traditions that you
have carried forward with you?
Parry (right): "On Christmas day my extended
family would get together for lunch. We’d cook a ham,
roast pork with the crackling, crispy fat, potato salad, green
salad and veggies. Then we would all eat around a huge table.
We’d have Christmas carols playing in the background.
After lunch someone would dress up as Santa and hand out all
the presents from each family member. We still do the Christmas
lunch and I love being Santa! A somewhat new tradition that
my wife and I have adopted from my sister and brother-in-law
is we give each other a new pair of flannel pyjamas on Christmas
Eve. We must wear them to bed and wake the next morning to
open the presents. It’s always hard to fall asleep because
the new pyjamas mean the presents are only hours away!
Alex Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): "One
important tradition practised by my family every year is that
of telling one another what God has taught them in the past
year. Each time, emotions flow freely and always mark our
Christmases with a spiritual bond that lasts long after the
gifts are forgotten. Another ceremony is our family communion
service on Christmas Eve. My family has always observed Christmas
Eve at home so it has become a very personal time for us where
we can connect with the Saviour."
Chonda Pierce: "We bake a cake every
Christmas Eve for Jesus’ birthday. Come to think of
it, it’s still a very selfish tradition, isn’t
it? Ha! We adopt a needy family or a few angel kids each year.
My kids love shopping for the list of gifts. We enjoy wrapping
them and sneaking them over to someone’s house. It is
always the highlight of our Christmas."
Carolyn Arends (singer/songwriter): "One
thing that we always do is go to my Mom and Dad’s. We
have a carol sing and somebody reads from this enormous Bible
- (this particular Bible) only gets opened on Christmas Eve.
I have memories from when I was very young of a nice carol
sing but as I have gotten older, everybody makes the carols
sound as horrible as possible. I don’t know how this
came into being, especially since I have two younger brothers
who are professional musicians. Now (she says laughing) it
is a very treasured part of our tradition. We all come together
and sing these carols horribly. I think my kids have come
to look forward to that although they think their uncles are
tone deaf they don’t realise that they can actually
sing. After that we have a serious reading out of the enormous
Anthony Evans (singer): "My family always
sat together for devotions and a big breakfast before opening
presents. When I was a kid it made me feel like I was going
to have an anxiety attack because I wanted to open my presents
so badly, but now I see how it got us focused as kids. I’ll
carry that one on with me."
What are your first memories of linking Christmas
McGinnis (The Turning, right): "I remember a
few special realisations during the Christmas season, but
one of the most special happened my senior year of high school.
My family travelling to see relatives on Christmas day, so
we got up extra early to celebrate with our immediate family.
Instead of opening presents around the fire, we decided to
have a more intimate and simple time together. We went down
to our barn and sat on hay bales in an empty stall. We didn’t
have a ceremony or even any gifts for each other, we just
spent time together talking about what happened the night
Christ was born. Christmas is a celebration of Christ and
the freedom that we have been given."
Annie Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): "Christmas
for me has changed very gradually. Even when I was little,
Jesus was the centre of the season, not a sideline. That reality
has grown more and more present as the years have rolled by.
Recently, we exchanged our Christmas tree for the nativity
scene as the destination for our presents. The change was
small, but in our minds, it was another re-enforcement of
Jesus as the centre of our celebration."
Chonda Pierce: "I grew up in church.
Santa was much more a stranger to me than the manger. Since
as far back as I can remember, the nativity was the greatest
effort in the Christmas season - usually highlighted by the
slow turning of a lighted colour wheel glowing across the
faces of those who participated in the Christmas pageantry
at church! I can actually remember thinking it very odd that
most people who visited the baby Jesus had on a bath robe!
To be honest, the 'routine' of that began to diminish as I
got older and became aware of my need for a saviour no matter
how 'churchy' my childhood was. Since then, I have stood in
Bethlehem and glanced across the shepherd's field repenting
that Christmas had become so 'routine' in the life of this
ex-preachers' kids. When I had children, the tender desire
to pass on the story to my children became the focus. My husband
and I began writing our 'childlike' versions of the story
for them each year. A couple of them were actually published:
Tales from the Manger, Twinkle - children's
books that we wrote strictly so our kids would never take
the story for granted as I did."
If God said to you ‘You can have one gift or
answer to prayer without limitations', what would you ask
Evans (right): "I would want everyone to experience
the true meaning of loving and being loved. I can’t
imagine going through life without knowing this feeling."
Jacob McGinnis: "I would give the world
passion; passion to seek after Christ, to be themselves, to
pursue their dreams, and to take risks. This world sucks the
life out of us and only Christ can renew our spirit and give
Lucas Parry: "I have some very close
friends, like brothers to me and family who have chosen to
walk way to live the prodigal life. My prayer would be that
God would open their eyes once again and they might see Him.
(I pray that) He would soften their hearts so they can respond
to the Holy Spirit as He calls them back home. (I pray) that
this Christmas would come alive once again for them."
Is there a Christmas song that holds special meaning
Carolyn Arends: "I think the one I most
look forward to is O Come All Ye Faithful. It has
an amazing great robust theological lyric. It seems every
year we break it down in church to just that one chorus
- O Come Let Us Adore Him. It gets down to a cappella. It
reminds me that I need to go to the manger and remember again
what God has done for us and adore Jesus."
Lucas Parry: "I love them all!!! If
I must choose a personal favorite it is The First Noel.
I start singing that every day after Thanksgiving and 'Chestnuts
roasting on an open fire (The Christmas Song),' even
though I’ve never roasted a chestnut. I love singing
it like Nat King Cole’s classic version."
How will you spend Christmas this year?
Todd Agnew: "My parents have moved up
to Pennsylvania so we are experiencing the reality of a white
Christmas which is something you don’t have in Dallas
Texas. We will be unwinding after finishing this Christmas
Lucas Parry: "My wife and I love Christmastime!
It begins after Thanksgiving when we put up the tree and decorate
the house inside and out. We spend hours putting up our Christmas
village under the tree and hanging the lights. This year will
be extra exciting as it will be our first Christmas with my
son Liam who was born in October and our first Christmas as
a family. I can’t wait!"
Wolaver (right): "Probably at home with the
family. Last Christmas, both sets of grandparents came and
a barrage of movies, games, food, candy, presents, and shopping
ensued to the utter detriment of our health."
Chonda Pierce: "My kids are older, so
Santa is not really 'all that' anymore in our house! We go
to Christmas Eve services at my church every year. We drive
by the Opryland Hotel (in Nashville) to see the Christmas
lights. After that we usually head out to a little hideaway
cabin in the woods. We cut a tree, make decorations most of
the day, relax by the fire and play scrabble until we fall