Last Saturday evening, our family went to Home Depot to get a Christmas tree. Yes I know, it's kind of late in the season. Ever the procrastinators though, getting our tree about two weeks before Christmas was actually early for us. We're usually the people rushing in the week before when the lot is half empty. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of having a nice Christmas tree and decorating the house, but finding the time and the energy can be a real challenge. Can I get an amen? Add to that the USC-UCLA football game was that evening. But we did it (our family not the Trojans)! We got the tree, albeit under the threat of violence from our girls whom we had promised a tree over the weekend :) As we drove home, the girls talked about past Christmases, traditions, and things they remember. So I wanted to share with you part of a devotional I had read on the purpose of family traditions by Debra Torres (on her Simply Jesus Blog).
I found the huge wooden star one day while walking through the pastures of a farm where we rented. It rested against a corrugated steel wall inside one of the farm’s outbuildings. What was the star doing out in the middle of a cow pasture? I wondered. Let’s just say I was intrigued. When I asked my landlord about the star, his tone turned a bit nostalgic as he said, “Oh, Dad used to string lights on that and put it up on the roof every year.” See, my landlord had grown up in the house where we were living, and I loved to hear sentimental stories like that one. I quickly asked my landlord right then and there if I could use the star that Christmas and was glad when he consented. I strung the star with fresh white lights and, not daring enough to venture to the roof, propped it up right next to our front door. At night it had a beautiful effect. And since our home was up on a hill a short distance from a busy road, I hoped that it reminded passersby of the Star of Bethlehem. I was surprised a year or two later though when my son came home from school with a paper he had written on family traditions. My star made the top of his list! I had no idea I had created a tradition for my own family. And you better believe I put it up again that Christmas.
But sometimes, when the holidays roll around, I get to thinking about how much work I'll save by eliminating this or that tradition. I mean, what if we didn’t even do a tree this year? No needles, no tangled lights, none of those crazy hooks stuck in the carpet. Our family has actually gone into a “simple mode” the past few years with a small artificial tree– but maybe we didn’t need to get that out either. But boy was I convicted this past summer by something I read by Richard Ivy, writer of the father’s devotional, “Memories of Dad.” In his piece, “Father of the Memory,” Ivy highlights how important family traditions are to our kids saying: “Traditions are part of life. They set standards of behavior. They impart family values. They help knit together family members into a tapestry that gives each one a sense of belonging and acceptance. “And traditions are not limited to any particular season. On the Fourth of July, families have reunion picnics. At Easter, families buy new clothes. Vacations are often always at the same place. And, birthdays are where grandma always gives you a dollar for each year of your age. Each of these adds another stitch to the family fabric.” I liked what Ivy had to say and somehow it all made sense to me again. Traditions may take work, but they do have purpose. And one of the nice things about them is that while you can keep old ones alive, you can always add new ones to the mix like my star. Traditions do take time and sometimes work, but they are an important part of the makeup of our families. Keeping them alive can be one of the gifts you give your kids or grandkids this year.
I know this Christmas season is different from past years. It will be hard not having the same activities or gatherings we're used to in our homes, with our friends, and at church. But traditions are important. They communicate our values and beliefs, and knit us together. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, Paul says "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions and instructions which you were taught by us, whether by our word of mouth or by letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting comfort and encouragement and the good hope by His grace, comfort and encourage and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." So this year, as you're able, hang a wreath or set out your cards or play Christmas music -- and celebrate the birth of Jesus in your lives and in your families.