We have many Christmas traditions in our household. Every year, we buy one special ornament for the tree, an ornament that speaks to the year. For example, the year when I adopted Sara was called “The Year of the Daughter.” That year’s ornament is a heart that reads “Daughters are Special People.” For our first Christmas in Arkansas, our choice was an Arkansas Razorbacks ornament. Our Christmas tree has become somewhat of a travelogue, tracing our lives from our first Christmas together to the present.
Good traditions are living things that inspire life. The very best traditions are intimate and personal. They may not mean anything to the folks across the street, but in your world they bring warmth and satisfaction. A dear friend of mine has a tradition in which the entire family volunteers to work at a soup kitchen on Christmas Day. They see it as a Christ-like act of selflessness in celebration of his birth. I know others who have a tradition of taking long walks on Christmas Eve, and others who have special traditions connected to obtaining and installing the Christmas tree.
Like all living things, traditions have a life cycle. They are born. They grow, mature and thrive. And, they eventually die. One of the challenges we face in life is accepting the death of a beloved tradition. It’s particularly difficult because it happens gradually; a tradition is often dead for some time before we come to terms with its death.
How can we know that a tradition has reached the end of its life? It’s easier to see in others than it is in ourselves. When the tradition serves us, it is alive. When we serve the tradition, the tradition is dead. Some people spend years serving dead traditions “because we’ve always done it this way.”
When our daughter was younger, we had a wonderful Christmas tradition called Cookie Day, when we gathered as many of Sara’s friends as the kitchen would hold and made Christmas cookies all day long.Sara’s an adult now, and has outgrown Cookie Day. We went through a couple of years when we observed Cookie Day half-heartedly, serving the tradition, before respectfully laying it to rest. I miss Cookie Day. The vitality of a kitchen filled with sugar-buzzed girls giggling and laughing and having fun is a wonderful memory, but the tradition has run its course. We could guilt Sara into continuing to celebrate Cookie Day, but it would bring no joy. It would only tarnish the sweet memories if a different season in my daughter’s life.
We have replaced Cookie Day with a new tradition, a tradition that serves us (and our taste buds) well. Sara is the official caretaker of her grandmother’s secret family Pound Cake recipe. Each year, Sara goes into “cake mode” at Thanksgiving and makes the most wonderful pound cake I’ve ever tasted. It’s wonderful fresh from the oven, better the second day, and would probably be even better on the third day. We don’t know for certain, because it never lasts that long. We have several wonderful pound cakes between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
The very best—and very worst—of Christmas traditions involve the spiritual roots of the Christmas celebration: celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
The very best involve people who look beyond the commercial trappings of the season and give honor and praise to the newborn King Jesus.
The very worst involve people who wax spiritual at Christmastime, even attending church and saying all the right “stuff.” Unfortunately, they exit the Christmas season just as Spiritually dead as they entered it. They miss the point. They leave the celebration of new Life in Christ without experiencing that new Life.
And that is the saddest tradition of all.