The Recipe for a Merry Christmas

December 21, 2018 by May Patterson (Alabama)

Years ago, when my great-grandmother May (whom I’m named after) laughed really hard, she’d lose her top denture. Then the entire family would erupt into hysterical laughter, holding our sides.

Thankfully, May laughed right along with us! One Christmas, I remember her winking at us kids and then popping her top denture out on purpose, as her blue eyes danced. Somehow, her loose dentures made a happy memory.

Many of my Christmas memories — even the unglamorous ones — still make me smile, even though they happened years ago.

I remember the funny things a lot more than I remember the gifts. 

I remember the excitement of celebrating together more than my troubles. 

I remember the things that touched my heart: the traditions, the love, and the sense of belonging to a family.  

My family pictured Christmas 2015

While there isn’t any one recipe for creating happy memories, each one of us has the right “ingredients” on hand to make a merry Christmas — we just need to use them. The frivolous “tinsel” of materialism can spoil the batch. Empty selfishness and negative thinking can turn the holiday bitter. But carefully mixing in things that are meaningful, good, and true makes Christmas truly merry.

Only you can decide how much of each ingredient to use. I’ve used examples from my own life to encourage you to find just the right mix for your family.

My Recipe for a Merry Christmas:

A Generous Portion of Laughter. My great-grandmother May was unselfish enough to laugh at herself, instead of being defensive about growing older, and she ended up happier for it. Her joyful, self-deprecating sense of humor made us love her even more. I want to be like that: open to laughter, letting go, and loosening up. May taught me that no matter what, it’s okay to laugh, anywayEven if your year has been painful, it’s okay for you to laugh a little, too. This Christmas, use a generous portion of laughter, in spite of your troubles, because Christmas promises us there is more joy to come.

A Heaping Cup of Giving. Unfortunately, I’ve often focused more on receiving at Christmas than giving. I hate that because I don’t even remember many of my presents. Oh, but I vividly remember the time my family took gifts to a needy family in a ramshackle house in the country. I remember their grateful, hopeful expressions as we unloaded a carload of gifts. Even decades later, I can still feel the joy. Giving blesses you far more than getting. Visit someone in need. Send a gift. Hug. Encourage. Extending God’s love to other people makes the merriest Christmas memories of all.

A Sprinkle of Fun Activities. One year, my husband’s family bundled up and took a holiday hike — I still remember how much fun we had. Once our family (including Grandma) cooked a complete Italian meal together — bruschetta, homemade pasta, and stuffed peppers. Sharing activities makes colorful memories. What activity might your family enjoy? Plan one and make wonderful memories.

A Pinch of Christmas Past. Every Christmas, my Mama makes her grandmother’s ambrosia with fresh oranges and shaved coconut. She often recalls how blessed her family was to have fresh oranges during the Great Depression. Ambrosia is a pinch of Christmas past that we still enjoy today. What past joy might add joy to your Christmas?

Unlimited Celebration. Sometimes, it’s easy to overlook Jesus, the reason for the season. This Christmas, remember to celebrate the rich blessings of eternal hope, joy and peace Jesus came to give us: For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace (Is. 9:6-7, NRSV).

May Patterson, author of the book Seeking a Familiar Face, began writing in response to God’s grace. And by God’s grace, she has written for magazines such as Focus on the Family, Crosswalk and The Upper Room, and is a sought-after public speaker. She loves to tell stories, laugh, and talk about the incredible journey of seeking after God. Connect with May at

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