A Fiddler on a roof sang about it, Grandmothers count on it, churches live by it and we all receive a sense of peace from it. While younger generations have not yet grown old enough or wise enough to recognize it’s importance, healthy traditions are the glue that can often hold a family together and soothe a weary soul. At this time of year especially, I’ve become all too aware of just how much certain people, places and activities can mean.
Simple things like snuggling up on my Sister’s sofa in Indiana in front of her warm fire watching “Polar Express” at Christmastime or getting my annual mug from the Christkindlmarket in Chicago’s Daley Plaza have become so very dear to me. Somehow, Christmas would just not be the same without these things. Nor would the season feel complete without strolling along State Street to view Marshall Field’s (aka – Macy’s) window display and spying the Walnut room’s grand tree. Hitting Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier, attending a beautiful church service, singing sweet Christmas songs, giving out gifts, spending quality time with family and friends and ringing in the New Year underneath the fireworks with my Husband are all on my happy list this time of year.
After relocating to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina this past October, I feared many of my beloved traditions would go by the wayside, right along with the snow and subzero temperatures. Mind you, it’s viewing “Polar Express” with my Sister I would have missed, not the polar vortex we Chicagoans survived in 2013. I never dreamed I’d miss snow, but when I was in mid-flight from sunny South Carolina to the chilly Heartland this past December, I found myself hoping some flakes would tickle my nose and fill my sights. God and Chi-town were kind enough to acquiesce to my desire. Faint flakes cascading down from the heavens were present and accounted for as I made my way from the airport to Daley Plaza’s red and white tents filled with treasures from afar.
Three Wise men traveled from afar in search of something much more significant and they were not disappointed either. The first journey and discovery of a precious baby Savior in a Manger led to the dawning of countless traditions all over the world. Most traditions are treasure troves of delight if they are centered in faith, family, love, giving, hope and wonder. If forced upon one whom does not wish to embrace them, traditions can be a drudgery, at best. However, if embraced and carried on by one who can understand the importance of the thing, tradition is a beautiful thing. I believe Jesus understood the importance of tradition and hoped we would too.
Whether going to temple with his parents or going up on a mountain to pray and pulling away seeking solace, Jesus had his routines and set way of doing certain things at certain times. Whether teaching the masses by way of parables, halting his schedule to heal the sick, or simply gathering together with his disciples to break bread, he too honored a specific belief system that shaped his world as he walked in the flesh. He had a certain way of doing life that included certain people, places and activities. These activities furthered his faith-walk.
Jesus let his call and the joy set before him drive him. That joy was us. Those who would believe in his name, his sacrifice and his unfailing love. We would become the beneficiaries of his grace. With that grace comes peace, love, protection and provision. His investment yielded our return and great reward. Because he did what he did, we can live, free and abundantly. But how did he do what he did? On a grander scale, though we know in our minds that Jesus had the help and strength of God Almighty, we shall never know how he bore all that he did. Yet still, one of the things that seemed to help him stay the course was tradition.
Tradition literally means a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. The mere fact that we celebrate Christmas, throw rice at weddings or ring in a new year with fireworks and party favors denotes how steeped we are in tradition. I, for one, feel that is a good thing. Such traditions are often tied to the best moments and memories of our lives and since navigating this thing called life on earth isn’t easy, embracing activities that help us develop new precious moments and beautiful memories is crucial.
Sadly, there can be a tendency to dread some traditions that perhaps as a kid we loved (or not), but now think is hokey. Maybe for you, the zip code conundrum has become so overwhelming that if you need to hit one more home for the holiday, you’ll soon need a private jet to make it all work. Maybe this time of year is tender or tough due to loss or tragedy. I’ve got a few of those obstacles to push past myself sometimes, as fond memories of those no longer with me bring some darkness into an otherwise merry and bright season. Life without loss is impossible, but life without love would be unbearable. Therefore, I’ll opt to keep my heart open and strive to keep learning about how to deal with loss when it does come instead of closing up or debunking traditions that hold rich rewards regardless of some possible associated pain.
Whatever the case for you, I believe that creating, sustaining and remaining tethered to healthy holiday traditions can soothe a weary soul and set a spirit soaring as we embrace the beauty of this season. I love reflecting on the birth of the most precious baby ever born. I love singing Christmas songs for six weeks and decorating my tree. I love traveling to the homes of those I love most and making new memories with dear friends and family and I love going to certain festive places and getting certain souvenirs that commemorate another year in which I have been blessed to celebrate Christmas. I also love going out to have dinner and getting in a memorable date night with my Husband on December 31st. The tradition of thanking God for another year of life, love (and even what we may have learned from loss), is also an important one. As we wait for the clock to strike twelve each New Year’s Eve, taking the time to remember all God has brought us through is perhaps the healthiest of traditions. Gratitude positions us for greater things in the year ahead.
Even though some are no longer here to celebrate with me, I choose to treasure the time I had with those now gone and I choose to relish the time I have with those now here. I choose gratitude. Every moment is a gift and every tradition Jesus held to led him further down the road to his destiny. Every tradition we hold to can also help us down our path of purpose. Your friend, spouse or child likely needs to encode precious moments into their memory bank to sustain them until next December, so remember it’s your presence, not presents, they are in need of most.
If holiday traditions help us keep the Christ in Christmas and help keep us humble and hopeful for a better year ahead, let us embrace them and all of it with great zeal. In Christmases to come, may we unwrap beautiful moments, not material things, and hold them in our heart forever. Our spirit and soul will thank us and so will Grandmother. Happy New Year Everyone!