For about the last 15 years, our kids anticipate one special Christmas present every year – the photo Christmas ornament handmade by Grandma. Each year is a new shape. Every grandchild receives their own unique piece adorned with photos taken by Grandma that year.
In 2005 my mother wondered if the tradition really mattered to the grandchildren anymore. She was beginning to think it didn’t mean much to them. So that year there were no Grandma ornaments under the tree. Oh my goodness! Did she hear it from the clan! The kids were devastated that she would stop the tradition – so much so that she ended up making Valentine’s Day ornaments that were delivered in February! Never again has she missed a year. Our tree is covered in beautiful handmade ornaments that bring back happy memories of years gone by.
Why do holiday traditions matter? This is a season full of ritual. I have mixed feelings about traditions. The latent rebel in me always wonders how we can break from tradition to create new approaches and new memories. But Thomas Merton said
“Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving – born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way.”
When I look at the family decorations on our tree, I find the custom reassuring, heart-warming and inspiring. But traditions must be worth more than that. Why do they matter? Here are some things that traditions help us to do:
1. Refocus on the important and not just the urgent.
The traditions of the Christmas season help pull me away from the crazy treadmill of working toward the future. They help me pause and focus on the people and activities that I know are most important. When I look at the photo ornaments on my tree, I realize how quickly the years pass. The seasonal traditions that develop over the years help me slow down and enjoy each moment of the present.
2. Impart security in times of change
In a world of continuous change, we cling to some traditions like a security blanket. It’s wonderful to know that some things won’t change. I think that’s why we like to re-read our favourite books or re-watch our favourite movies, because of the assurance of an outcome we can depend on. At Christmas time, I feel especially sad for people who have been displaced from the opportunity to enjoy their traditions. My hope for people in migration is that they will find a safe home to establish the security of traditions.
3. Strengthen our roots of belonging
Seasonal traditions are a great gift for building our identity and understanding of who we are. We repeat the stories and activities that affirm our faith and our values. Traditions bind us as families and communities. As three of our four children are now adults, I hope the traditions we have shared together will help them to be grounded. I want them to know they will always have a place of belonging.
Why do traditions matter to you? I’d be delighted if you’d take a minute and comment here. Then go, enjoy the traditions of the season. Celebrate your roots. Celebrate your traditions.
January 13, 2013
I have to add one more line to this post. Just came across an African proverb that needs to be included here:
“Ritual is not the sterile ‘repetition’ of unchanging gestures, but the everlasting recommencement of something that is the same, yet indefinitely novel.”