By Natalie Nichols Gillespie
In the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof, one of the most famous numbers takes place when the father, Tevya, and others sing the unforgettable tune “Tradition.” But what exactly does “tradition” mean at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Is it sticking to the same, old way of doing things year after year, or does it mean something entirely different? The online dictionary, www.dictionary.com, defines “tradition” like this: “The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication. A mode of thought or behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation. A time-honored practice or set of such practices.”
Seven Simple Traditions to Begin This Season in the Spirit
1. Create photo ornaments by hot gluing or printing on sticker paper a photograph of you and your loved ones. Wrap them around glass ball ornaments. Label with glitter glue, puffy paint pens, or permanent markers.
2. Start an ornament collection for each child, so they will have them for their own trees someday.
3. Choose a volunteer project and work on it as a group of friends or family.
4. Let your kids invite neighbor kids or friends from school over for a cookie baking day. Share the Christmas story with them as you work.
5. Make it a point to memorize Luke 2.
6. Go Christmas caroling, host a progressive dinner (where different homes serve the appetizers, main course, and dessert), or start a “Secret Pal” or “Chinese” gift exchange at home, at work, or in your clubs and Bible study groups. See how creative you can be on a small set spending limit.
7. Invite Jesus into your season. Start each day in prayer and ask him to show you what he wants you to do for his birthday season.
So, a tradition needs to be passed down and continuous from one generation to the next, but where does tradition begin? Well, your traditions may have started with your family of origin, your adopted family, your stepfamily, or all on your own. The important thing about good, God-honoring traditions is that they come from the heart and incorporate your faith, your family, and fellowship.
If you want more meaning and less materialism in your life this season, take time to honor old family traditions that bring you together; and prayerfully toss out the ones that create conflict or add chaos to your life. Create new traditions to pass on to the next generation by building in time to do all your holiday activities “in the spirit,” meaning that things like preparing the Thanksgiving meal and choosing the Christmas tree are done in a manner that is more than just checking them off the to-do list. Maybe that means that you and your friends set aside a day to choose Christmas trees together, then help each other decorate. Or perhaps your family makes it a tradition to cut down your own tree. Whatever the details, the point of a tradition is its meaning in your life and the way it witnesses and reaches out to those around you.
One great tradition that will touch lives is to practice the art of volunteering. Go with friends, as a couple, or with your kids to serve at a food pantry, a local children’s home, or a church’s Angel Tree program. Adopt families who can’t afford to celebrate, and purchase their holiday dinner and gifts for each member. Make hand-decorated ornaments or fill inexpensive Christmas mugs with a hot chocolate packet and a candy cane and deliver to shut-ins, your neighbors, or local firefighters who protect your community. The ideas are endless; the trick is to turn them into annual events that bless you and others.
In order to include more spirituality as a foundation of your holiday traditions, it’s as simple as going back to the beginnings. The roots of the American Thanksgiving celebration lie in the story of the starving colonists and the natives that befriended them. The two groups broke bread together and the colonists, according to historical accounts, thanked God for it. In essence, they went to “church,” since the early church formed when the Apostles and those they told about Jesus “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47, NIV)
Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth, and the entire month of December can be filled with memorials to honor Jesus. Lighting advent wreaths weekly, reading the Christmas story found in Luke 2, and opening the doors of an advent calendar daily are a few starting points to bring Jesus into focus this season.
“We bake a pound cake and put a candle on it, light it, and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus on Christmas Day,” says Sherry Rasmussen, a mother of five and grandmother of 18. “When our kids were young, we divided up the verses of Luke 2, and each child memorized his part. Then we lined them up according to age and had them recite the real Christmas story before we opened our presents. Now, it’s the grandkids that recite the Christmas story, so the next generation is continuing the tradition.”
Resources to Help You Get Started Making Your Own Traditions:
FamilyLife has some wonderful seasonal products to help you interact as a family and create time-honored traditions. Check out Barbara Rainey’s Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember and the interactive advent nativity What God Wants for Christmas. Find these and other resources at www.familylife.com.
(“Tradition, Tradition!” by Natalie Nichols Gillespie, from the new faith-based lifestyle magazine mtl…Bringing Women More to Life, Nov./Dec. issue. For more information or to subscribe to mtl, visit www.mtlmagazine.com.)