In Search of a Christmas Tradition

A Christmas basket created by a former colleague and gifted to my parents years ago.
A Christmas basket created by a former colleague and gifted to my parents years ago.

No, this isn’t a late Christmas post. There are, after all, 12 days of Christmas. In fact, we usually celebrate (in the sense that we’re still playing Christmas music and enjoying decorations) all the way through Epiphany, so…this isn’t a late post. It’s right in the middle.

That’s not to say that we’re not beginning to unwind a bit from the holiday. Even though it wasn’t as much of a scramble this year in our pandemic-broken world (although, to be honest, I sort of missed that), and even though we didn’t travel and celebrated only at home for the same reasons, we’re still only now finishing the last of the Christmas cookies and have reached the point where nothing else will fit into the recycling bin for this week.

Just before we settled into our end-of-year vacation, I was out doing the small smattering of errands that were still pressing for the year, and someone asked me what Christmas traditions we have. The question stopped me short, because I have to say….not many.

And that’s not for lack of effort. Karen and I have tried to formulate traditions that would be meaningful to our family but, in our defense, the odds were against us in a few ways. First, both of our childhoods had sparse Christmas traditions. Karen’s family opened a gift on Christmas Eve, but mine did not. When I was older, my family lit candles and read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke after returning from Christmas Eve services, but we didn’t do this when I was a child. Karen’s family observed Advent, coming from an Evangelical Free background. Mine did not, coming from a Baptist background (which I later eschewed). Secondly, until our oldest daughter was four, we travelled every year for Christmas. There were no real traditions because we were always with one side of the family or other, and usually quite tired from having a flight arrive in the nick of time on Christmas eve.

So, for the last few years, we’ve dug for traditions. Advent has been consistent for us, but one could argue that’s not really a Christmas tradition, especially if you’re a liturgical purist. One year we drove around to see Christmas lights in our area, and the kiddos loved it and we said we would do it again, but we didn’t. One year we staggered tree decorations to observe events such as St. Nicholas Day. That didn’t stick, either. The only thing that’s been consistent is that Santa (or Father Christmas, as the kiddos call him) only leaves small gifts in their stockings, an attempt for us to avoid the rampant consumerism and materialism of the holiday. Again, though, that’s hardly a tradition.

I have moments in which this leaves me with guilty-parent syndrome. Karen and I feel that traditions are healthy for the major observances of our faith, but we’re terrible at them. I’ve just never cared for routines, and we’re both the products of a post-modern mishmash of histories in which the tradition just wasn’t there. So, finding meaning in a tradition that you’re trying to start, rather than one that you’ve inhabited for some time, is difficult. Apparently, it’s insurmountably difficult. I suppose it’s one of those things in which I just wish we could have done better.

Ultimately, I want our children to appreciate Christmas for what it is, not just as an avalanche of gifts. I want them grow into loving God with all of their hearts, and loving their neighbors as themselves. That is more important than any tradition, and I certainly don’t believe that a tradition is necessary for this growth. I only hope that, inasmuch as a tradition can be a vehicle for that growth, we can manage to make it happen.

I hope that your traditions, as much as they could be, were meaningful in this turbulent year. Merry Christmas.

Thoughts?

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