It’s Christmas morning, we’re hungry. A frustrated exclamation of “There’s nothing open today!” wails from the walls of our kids’ bedrooms.  I answer their depraved cry with an upbeat sing-songy solution…. “Wrong, dear family…one place IS open today…Waffle House!  Sure, it’s Christmas morning, but don’t worry.  Waffle House almost never closes. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week – its doors will always welcome you in.  So, over the river and through the woods…to Waffle House we go!”

You get the picture.

This was part of our conversation years ago when we started a special Christmas morning tradition in our family.  The stockings had been opened and the piles of gift wrap made our house look like a tropical storm named Hobby Lobby had hit our den.  Buried in the wrapping paper and new goodies, my husband Jim and I realized we wanted our kids to experience more than just “getting” gifts.  We yearned for them to know that GIVING was really more important than receiving. We had read the Christmas story in Luke 2 with Jesus being the greatest gift of all and discussed how the Gospel is the reason for this special day, but we wanted our children to step outside their comfort zone on, arguably, the most important day of the year — not just for them, but for us, as well.

Waffle House: A Mission Field?

Waffle House was a perfect place to take the Great News of the Gospel on Christmas morning. We thought about how the Waffle House staff would have to work on Christmas morning while everyone else enjoyed a cozy Christmas with their families. After all, the kids were correct; almost everything was closed that day. We decided Waffle House would be our Christmas mission field.

So, what was the plan? Our objective was simply to befriend the waiter, ask about themselves and their family, eat some Christmas morning waffles, and leave a big fat honking tip. We asked the kids to pitch in whatever amount of money they could afford as a nice tip for the server. The kids asked why they had to give their money to someone they didn’t even know. We simply told them to give what they wanted to and not to tell our server about our special gift for them. Obviously, some gave willingly while others were still skeptical. Piggy banks were dumped, pockets were turned inside out, and donations were collected, then we piled into the car.

Traditions and PJs

The impact was huge — maybe it was huge for the server, but it was most definitely huge for our family. The hearts softened to thinking of others were well worth any cold adventure outdoors on those chilly Christmas mornings. Over the years, the tradition continued to not only endure, but to grow. Often we would hand- make a card that would contain the tip.  It told about HOPE found in the baby Jesus and His birth on this special day.  The whole family would sign it as we added our gift inside. Another, somewhat less meaningful but still fun, part of the tradition that evolved was that we would always wear our Christmas pajamas. Given as family gifts on Christmas Eve, we would don them that night and then keep them on until we got back from Waffle House on Christmas Day. You know, grown men wearing penguin flannel pants or loud Christmas plaid and thermal underwear shirts just made the occasion even more festive! Thankfully, as we get older, PJs have toned down to sports teams as this seems to sit better with the testosterone in the house.

A Christmas Tip

In all of the years that we have carried on this tradition, we have never had a grumpy server.  After the normal introductions, we’d ask questions. We wanted to know about this person who was happily serving us on Christmas day.  “What time did you start today?”  “How long do you have to work today?” “Tell us about your family.”  “When will you have Christmas?” “How can we pray for you?” In the end, we actually got to know the server pretty well during our visit.  The kids could hardly wait to finish the meal of smothered hash browns and pecan waffles in anticipation of the check and what followed.

The reactions were varied throughout the years, but always exciting to see…and hear!  Often we would be loading up the car when we could hear screaming coming from inside Waffle House. Sometimes, they would come chasing after us…

Now, our kids are all married and we take their spouses with us when we go.  The pool of money grows every year and the blessings that come from reaching out grow beyond what any bit of money could ever bring.

Family Glue

Family traditions are those rare things that connect us to each other in a way that bonds and builds memories unique to all other relationships in our lives.  At our home, traditions are what make our family OURS. They are the “family glue” that only we can share by doing them together. We hope that you have or will have that very same glue to not only keep your family together on the holidays, but, throughout the year, have as the impact of meaningful, Gospel- centered traditions that can last a lifetime.