There is probably no time more likely to breed family traditions than the end-of-year holidays. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even New Year’s Day are commonly filled with routines that carry on from year to year.
I don’t want to strike a nerve here, but one of the adjustments for young married folks is the merging of two, sometimes very different, sets of traditions. Imagine someone from a family who has their Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve, after which they open their presents before going to bed marrying someone whose family gets up very early Christmas morning, opens their gifts and then enjoys a big breakfast together. Such was the case with Laurie and me.
Traditions can be funny things. We grow quite fond of them for little reason other than that they are, well, traditions. A tradition we have developed together as a family is to have enough turkey at Thanksgiving to have leftovers. You see, leftover turkey, leftover dressing, stuffing or whatever you call it, leftover cranberry sauce, wheat bread and mayonnaise makes the best sandwich you ever tasted. In fact, our children have commented that we don’t need to even have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner as long as we can still figure out a way to have leftover turkey for the sandwiches.
Other traditions I grew up with include extended family dinners. My father was one of four brothers. We traditionally went to the home of one of his brothers for Thanksgiving and another for New Year’s Day. Ditching the toboggan before getting to the road at the bottom of the hill, playing with Frieda, the German Shepherd, and being banned to the kids table while the adults enjoyed the beauty of the 200-year-old dining room that couldn’t handle all of us are just some of the memories that remain from my childhood with aunts, uncles and cousins.
We need to build traditions. Our children are growing up, and they need traditions to come home to. It can create a common bond shared only by the family that practices it.
It has become easy and commonplace to criticize our fast food culture. Yet the truth remains; our culture eats on the run, spends little time sharing meals around the dinner table together and generally functions very differently than what we might think best if we were to gain control of our lives and plan things a little more.
So, as we're in the Advent Season be encouraged to think and plan carefully what you will do with your little ones, teenagers, college students or young marrieds as you gather together around the table and for extended family time. Take some time to plan and think about what you want your children to remember and appreciate.
The resurgence of classical Christian education is taking hold wonderfully in many corners. It is producing children who know and understand the past, have a mastery of language and are as comfortable talking to a wino on the street or a corporate executive. Thankfully, it is doing more than providing children a great education. Many families have realized through their educational efforts and commitment to family that building healthy family relationships is also a part of the wise and godly upbringing we so long to give our children. My point is to emphasize that family traditions, holiday traditions in particular, are a good and important part of this thorough educational process. After all, who doesn’t want to establish a place where kids want to come home?
I would be remiss if I were to not mention that traditions can also be dangerous things. Our neighbors, the Amish, remind us of this problem. Their lives are filled with traditions. How they dress, the rejection of cars for horses and buggies, and even their outlook on life frequently has more to do with mindless traditions than it does explainable meaning. Ask one of them why they don’t have electricity, drive cars or wear what they do and you might be surprised to find that they don’t know why. Doing something for tradition’s sake without meaning is, well, meaningless.
Most of the traditions I mentioned earlier have to do with these less important style type traditions. Turkey sandwiches, timing of Christmas dinner, etc. Another, more meaningful tradition of ours is attending Christmas Eve service at church. For a season, our home church had no Christmas Eve service, which made it very practical to visit and worship with believers from other denominations. We've attended Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches as a family on Christmas Eve. What a great way to expose our children to other Christians and other means of worshipping the same Triune God, and what a great time to do it.
There’s another extremely important tradition that we've developed in our family at holiday time. It’s the traditional Monopoly game. The problem is we’re developing a traditional winner. I can’t understand how Parker, our youngest, always is lucky enough to win.
So, develop your own traditions. Enjoy your family and friends. And realize that such traditions, smothered in gratitude to God for the very opportunity to develop them, are a substantial reason why we do all this work to educate our children in the first place.