A Gaither family Christmas
As an author, lyricist, teacher, speaker, mother and grandmother, Gloria Gaither is known around the world. With Bill Gaither, her husband of more than 40 years, she has written many gospel classics and standards. Collectively, she has shared the copy line for more than 600 songs, recorded more than 60 albums with the Gaither Trio and written 18 books. More recently she has helped create the Homecoming Video Series, which has sold 7.5 million copies. The Gaither Homecoming Concerts sell some 1.1 million tickets each year in packed arenas across the country.
In Gaither’s most recent book, He Started the Whole World Singing: A Treasury of Gaither Christmas Songs, Reflections and Holiday Traditions (Warner Faith, 2004), she shares with readers a glimpse into the lives of the Gaither family, revealing the stories behind 25 of their Christmas songs along with family recipes and holiday traditions.
Gaither spoke recently with Assistant Editor Ashli O’Connell.
PE: Tell me about your inspiration for this project.
GAITHER: About five years ago I started to get serious about writing the stories behind our songs. Some of the songs have specific stories and some of them have spiritual insights that came to us because of something that made us say, “Oh, there needs to be a song that communicates that truth.” So I have actually tried to put that on paper. And several years back I thought it would be fun to do a collection of songs about the Incarnation. That has come full circle and that is why I did this particular collection of songs, which include many of the Christmas songs we have written. But the project is broader than Christmas; it’s a collection of stories, poems and songs that celebrate the Incarnation.
One of the things the publisher asked me was, “How do you celebrate the Incarnation at your house?” At first I said I didn’t want to get into all of that. I’m not into recipe books. We do have ways we celebrate, but these are private family things. But they finally convinced me that it would be fun to share not only the stories behind the songs but also how the Incarnation is celebrated in our family — which of course includes food and family traditions — and those things are included in the book.
PE: What is the book’s primary message?
GAITHER: I would like people to not think of Christmas as just another holiday. Christmas is the Incarnation of Christ, and I’d like to see Christmas be less gift-centered and more Christ-centered. Whatever families have to do to make that the focus, I would like to help. I think it’s sad that even Christian families go through the whole season without a family-wide discussion of how God came to dwell with us.
PE: How can families do that?
GAITHER: Christmas is a great time to sit down as a family and watch the film Jesus of Nazareth, and have a discussion about it. It’s a great time to do puzzles together that are huge pictures of the nativity. It’s a great time to set up the nativity together with children and teenagers and take each piece of the nativity and read that part of the Christmas story and set it in place and tell the story over several days. I think that’s vital.
When you’re decorating the tree, don’t get tired of saying to the children that we put lights on this tree because Jesus is light in a dark world. And when we turn out the lights and turn on the tree lights, I want you to see what a difference light makes in darkness. And we use an evergreen tree because we will live forever if we give our hearts to God. This tree is just a symbol — it will die, but we will not. We use red at Christmas to represent the blood of Christ. We use green to represent everlasting life. Don’t get tired of explaining why we do what we do. Why we light the candles, why we ring the bells, why we sing the carols.
You could take a carol a day through the month of December at family worship time and just read the lyrics phrase by phrase and sing it together and talk about what it means. If we do that, then that carol will forever be meaningful.
There are dozens of ways to do what I’m saying. It’s really important that we help children internalize the Incarnation and discuss what it meant for the God of the universe to limit himself to a tiny baby, to be one of us.
I hope my book will be helpful in doing that. In the stories I do talk about some of the meanings of the Incarnation. They’re in short segments that would be particularly good as devotionals with older children. I hope families will sing the songs. The CD in the back of the book is a collection of medleys with which families can sing along. It is my hope that both the pieces and the songs will help make our celebrations more meaningful.
PE: How is Christmas different now that you’re a grandma?
GAITHER: It’s more fun. There was a period when our children would come to our home on Christmas Eve and say, “It’s too quiet!” But we don’t say that anymore!
We have always been a big Christmas family. Bill says I start Christmas in July, which is almost true. We decorate everything and cook everything, so we have lots and lots of traditions in our family, and kids make everything more fun. We do things, too, that involve the generation before us. Bill’s dad is still living, and it’s amazing that we have four generations celebrating together. What a gift.
PE: One of the things we try to keep in mind this time of year is our readers who may be having a difficult Christmas. Have you experienced that kind of a Christmas and what would you say to those who are experiencing one now?
GAITHER: We have lost people at Christmas. Bill’s grandfather died on the 4th of December and my dad died in December. Bill’s mom had a stroke on Christmas Eve and never regained consciousness and died within 24 hours. So not only were those particular Christmases difficult, but the recurring memories when we come back together can be very difficult.
For people who have dysfunctional families or who have experienced divorce — the things that really tear Christmas apart — I guess I would say, let somebody love you. We have always included people in our Christmas celebration who are either single or are in the middle of some crisis or who, for some reason, it’s not comfortable for them to be with their own families. It’s very important for close families to include others in their celebrations — not just for the day but for the weekend. Buy them gifts and make them a part of your celebration.
I hope that if someone is reading this and sees that kind of Christmas coming and knows that going home is going to be more painful than not going home, that they say something to their church family to let someone know it will be hard. I know it can be painful to go out. I know that sometimes seeing a good marriage is painful if yours is falling apart. But those are some of the humps that your church family can help you get over. It’s hard for people to reach out and offer comfort if those who are in pain won’t confide in us and let us love them.
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