Cynthia and author Janet K. Johnson discuss ways to prepare for the holidays and nurture relationships

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The holidays are upon us. And when I say that I include Christmas as well as Thanksgiving.

I’m doing a special focus this year, and it’s going to be called Make a Memory. Instead of getting all upset and being uptight, I want us to focus on our family and our relationships and doing things that we’ll remember years from now. When we get to the end of our life, we’re, we’re not going to say, gee, I wish I had bought that. We’re going to be thinking about what we did with our family and our friends. Today I have with me Janet Johnson, who is an author, and she’s going to give me some of her thoughts about how we can make this Christmas special and Thanksgiving special. Welcome, Janet.


It’s so good to be here.


Give me some thoughts on how you prepare for the holidays.


Well, that all depends on how busy I am, and it depends and the season in my life. And I think that goes for everybody. As you all know, I’ve had some difficult times. I’ve had some struggles and some significant deaths in my family. And so, the holidays have not always been a time of joy.  I’m always celebrating the birth of Jesus, which is the real reason for Christmas. But for Thanksgiving, when there’s an empty chair, sometimes it’s very difficult. But there are ways around that I have discovered.

And one of the ways, for instance, and I’m just going to kind of share perhaps ways to honor those that are not present with us now, whether that would be through just that they’re not there because of distance or for a military member being away or for someone who has passed. One of the things to do is to have a basket when people come in and have them write a fun memory about the person that you’re talking about. And then it does not have to be a funny story or a fun memory. And then you pull one of the things and that person tells the funny story. Well, everybody around the table is going to be laughing and going, oh, I remember when. And different things like that. And that brings a really special time. And if you do that each year, you continue to have that person with you, and it is great fun anyway.

It’s just great memories. One of the things that our family did after my mom passed the first year. I didn’t realize how significant this was until afterward. our son called and said, “Do you have Grandma’s recipe for the cranberry casserole?”

I said, “Yes, I do.”

And so, he said, “We want to make that recipe.”

Well, guess what? Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, that cranberry casserole is on our table wherever we are celebrating.  I think we develop traditions, and so it’s important to be able to keep those traditions, and they just bring joy into whatever the celebration happens to be. I want to kind of think about Christmas time, because that’s a difficult time, especially, too, for people who have lost loved ones. And one of the things that someone suggested to me, was gathering all of the ornaments through the years that have been given to Grandma on a special tree. And every year that tree gets brought out.

And Grandma’s a part of the celebration that is there. And the kids loved it because their ornament that they had given to Grandma was right there. And it’s a happy memory. It’s not a sad memory. It’s a happy memory. And that’s the thing that we want to do, is always to remember the happy times. I think it’s important to be able to allow the children to, for instance, make a mobile for Thanksgiving or for Christmas.

For instance, they could have a heart as the big heart, and then five or six little hearts. They draw a picture on the heart of a special memory they have from Thanksgiving. It’s probably going to be a tradition, like that cranberry casserole. And then they can put little ones about people that are special or whatever. And then you can hang it up in their room, or you can hang it in the dining room or wherever they want to hang it, as just a reminder of all the different special times that they’ve celebrated over Thanksgiving. Of course, it would depend on the age of the child. Of course, the most important thing for us as moms and people who are trying to nurture children is time. We get so busy with everything else, and it’s more important to just sit down and play some Legos than it is to have a perfectly decorated house. And I think sometimes we forget that because we want everything to be perfect.

But perfection comes when we hear a child just tell somebody else, my mom sat and played Legos with me yesterday, or whatever it happens to be, or colored or things like that. So it’s just really important.


That is an important message that I think we need to say more of is that time spent with our kids is probably more important than any decorations we might have or special gifts because the time is molding them in a way that nothing else can. So that is such an important thing to say don’t get your schedule so crowded that you don’t have time to spend with your children.

I really appreciate that emphasis on the person missing, because my father passed away the week of Thanksgiving, and so we buried him the day before Thanksgiving. He had military, so we had to be buried in a military cemetery.  They wanted him out of the way, but they didn’t want to wait till after Thanksgiving. It kind of forced us to do things quickly. And that year was so uncomfortable because it was such a sudden change, and it was a lot. My parents had always been with us at Christmas time, and he was my last parent. His death put a dent in our Christmas that year. Continually making the things that my mother made, or at least one or two dishes and bringing the stories about them in has included them, and it kind of helped us to heal. Plus, it gives a heritage to the kids.


And I think that’s really. I didn’t realize that cranberry casserole was so important, but as I thought back on it, that was something mom always prepared. When we went to visit her, she had that cranberry casserole. And I think traditions are important. The year after our son was killed, I didn’t feel like doing much. I got up that morning, Christmas morning, and I put some cereal and stuff on the table. My daughter said, “Mom, where’s the Christmas quiche?”

And I said, “I didn’t make it.”

“Why not? It’s a tradition.”

I didn’t know it was a tradition. Guess what? Every Christmas we have that quiche. Right. But I think we can get so involved in our feelings that we forget the feelings of our children and what’s important to them. So, one of the things that we can do as moms is ask them what’s important to them about whatever holiday it is, whether it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving or a birthday or whatever. Ask them, “What would you like to do this year?”

Allow them to have part of the decision-making and be a part of that whole conversation, rather than us as parents saying, well, we don’t need to do this. We don’t need to do that kind of thing. For instance, if they’re older, like a teen, or 6th, 7th, 8th grader, whatever. If Grandpa died, he always put the star on the tree.

“Who’s going to do that?”

So, in expressing it to one of the older children, “I would like you to do this if you think it’s okay.”

Always give them the choice to honor Grandpa by doing this, and they see it as an honor to their grandpa. He becomes the one who puts the star on the tree. It’s all about allowing them to be included in all the decisions that are being made.


I think that’s sweet. Do you have anything else to add before we close?


No, I just think that our children are so important to us, and we just want them to thrive well. Death is going to come. Hard times are going to come. struggles are going to come. But for them to know they are secure in our love and the love of the Lord. That gives them a solid foundation for whatever’s going to come against them.

As a gift to my listeners, I’m giving some of my childhood memories of Christmas and a cake recipe my mother baked. You can find that here.

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