I am a traditionalist, making memories out of repeated moments. Yes, that’s me. In fact, the other day a friend called me “old school.”I said, “Why, thank you, indeed I am old school. I appreciate tradition.” We laughed together. So where did this begin? How did traditions become so important to me?
Many of these traditions were established around special occasions, particularly holidays and birthdays. This Advent and Christmas time of year, I think back upon traditions from childhood, established by my parents, helping me to anticipate the meaning behind Christmas. As a child, advent festivals were held annually at our small close knit church. During these annual festivals, we made ornaments (which still hang on my family’s tree!), iced sugar cookies made by our pastor’s wife, created family advent wreaths, and concluded the evening with a beautiful worship service, lighting the first advent candle of the season. Afterward, we would walk home in the cold winter’s night with our treasures. For the weeks following the festival, our family would have our own advent celebration with scripture, hymns and prayer around the dinner table, which would help us to focus on the hope of the baby Jesus.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
-trans. John Neal
Next came the annual tromp through the nearby farm to find our Christmas tree with the entire family, including the dog. We always managed to find our “best tree ever,” tying it to the top of our station wagon and hoping we’d make it home without losing it. I often wonder if the tree was discovered at the beginning of our hike, and my dad simply wanted to make memories with us, charging through the snow laden rows of trees. There was peace there amidst the chaos.
Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
On Christmas Eve, the traditional plate of homemade Christmas cookies, a cold glass of milk and carrots for the reindeer were left on the kitchen table for Santa Claus after his visit. Upon waking Christmas morning, my brother and I were anxious to race downstairs. However, my mom (wisely) would “encourage” us to eat a bowl of Cheerios upstairs, as she knew quite well that once downstairs, no healthy food would be had for a while.
Racing down the steps behind my brother we first checked the cookies. GONE!
Then the milk. EMPTY!
Then the carrots. VANISHED!
And then the tree, adorned with homemade ornaments, which we had picked out as a family, was perfectly poised with presents, helping us celebrate the true gift and joy of the birth of Jesus and of our family.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing.
These few childhood traditions are part of my Christmas story. Fast forward thirty plus years, I married, and began a family. We started our own traditions but carried on similarities to our childhoods. Advent readings throughout the four weeks of Advent are held around our dinner table or tree. (Sometimes two a night to play catch up!) The devotionals change, but our message is the same – Christ is the center of our Christmas tradition.
For the past thirteen years, we have hiked a nearby farm for the perfect tree with our kids. This year, we broke tradition (insert gasp here!) and are using an artificial tree for the first time that was gifted to us. My son declared “It is just not Christmas without a real tree, so much is changing!” My daughter wisely expressed, “We just need to give it a try!”
On Christmas Eve, we place a plate of cookies, glass of milk, and carrots on the table for Santa Claus and reindeer.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
All of these snippets of tradition from my childhood to my parenthood are filled with desires to fill our family with the heavenly hope found only in Christ, the powerful peace only He can bring to us, an unexplainable, jubilant joy no matter our circumstances, and a longstanding love so divine, so complete, that we must worship Him. Traditions keep our family focused on the reason for this season, as we wait and prepare for the miracle of the Christ child.
May you carry on, or begin anew, traditions that fill your family, reflect your faith, and write your Christmas Story. Merry Christmas!