365 Days of Christmas is keeping the spirit alive
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Get Organized Now for Christmas - Day 21 - Traditions

What is it about traditions, especially Christmas traditions, that make them so important to us? We all help decorate the big traditional tree, we bake the same cookies every year, we read Christmas stories or do a small activity every night in December . . . the list goes on and on.

Traditions provide great value. Family traditions provide great value, and the value lasts far beyond the moment. The value of a tradition isn't in completing the ritual; the value comes from what it provides for those who participate.

Traditions provide stability. Activities that are observed year in and year out become a means by which family members can build trust and security. Regardless of what else may happen, the traditions will not change. So much in our lives these days is temporary. Family traditions provide something for every person to hold on to and to rely upon.

Traditions give us a sense of identity. They are one of the things that make us unique to other families. I remember reading about a person who recalled his childhood Christmas traditions. The writer was clearly moved by thoughts of his mother's Ambrosia Salad that was served every Christmas Eve. In this article, he commented that he experienced a "normal American Christmas." For him, Ambrosia Salad was the crowning glory of Christmas.

Although our Christmas traditions may have some commonality with other families, each household still has their own way of living out those traditions. That is what is so special about them. Each family's unique twist is what gives that family its identity and helps the members bond with one another. Ethnic foods, decorations, special activities, all help families become distinctive.

Traditions provide continuity between generations. It can be difficult to keep up with extended family members these days, and, of course, it is impossible to touch those who are long gone. But traditions create a bridge between the young and the old, between the past and the present. We have some Christmas decorations that have been passed down through the years. What better way for the generations to mix and mingle than over a table laden with foods made from well-loved family recipes?

Traditions provide goodness for families. We can build memories and share stories so that we draw near to one another.

With everything there is to do these days, how can a family determine which activities ought to become traditions?

Here are some tips to help you figure out what will work best for you:

  • Recognize that some traditions just happen. When my children were young, I started Christmas morning by singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. I hadn't planned on this becoming a tradition; it just happened.
  • Traditions need to include everyone. We usually have a quiet Christmas morning with the children and I. Grandparents visit and friends drop by. Activities that can easily accommodate different numbers of people are more apt to make for good traditions. One tradition we observe is reading The Night before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore on Christmas Eve. It is a good time for everyone to quiet down, enjoy being together, and everyone can participate.
  • Choose activities that reflect faith. We also read the story of Jesus' birth from the Gospel of Luke on Christmas Eve.
  • Choose activities that will serve others. Christmas is a great time to practice generosity. Over the years my children have bought gifts for disadvantaged children, donated books to the local library, baked cookies for the local firefighters, collected hats and mittens for disadvantaged children, provided holiday foods for others, and participated in the Samaritan's Purse program.
  • Choose activities that are fun and will relieve stress. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we get caught up in the idea that we need to provide a perfect Christmas for our families. We don't. We need to give them homes that are happy and filled with love and joy. One of the best decisions I ever made was when I decided not to travel from parent to parent to grandparent to grandparent's house (up to 7 houses) on Christmas Day. Every year I panicked as I travelled snow-filled roads to see every family member ON Christmas Day. I finally realized that I was the only one who cared about all of that.
  • Choose activities that are easily reproduced year after year. The Lord Himself created the idea of traditions and yearly festivals. In Numbers 28:6 and Deuteronomy 16:1-17, He commanded the people to observe specific holy days and rituals every year. What is important is not that the traditions be elaborate, but rather that they be lived out repeatedly.

All of us have holiday memories. Some of those memories are hard and painful. If a loved one is no longer living, Christmas can be something that is dreaded rather than anticipated. Some of our memories are good as we remember a special gift, a fun event, or a moment when it seemed that all of life came together and we held it in our hands. We cannot plan all of those moments for our families. Through creating and maintaining family traditions, we can offer stability, identity, and continuity to our loved ones. We can look to the past and not be afraid of remembering those who are no longer with us. We can enjoy the present, knowing that we are building strong families. We can look forward to the future, when our children will sit by the fire in their homes and tell stories of their Christmas traditions.

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