It would be easy to speak of families keeping traditions – we all have them – some of them silly – some of them profound. Some are inherited from generations, others develop completely independent of what has gone before. What I know, as the father of four (most now grown), is at least two things: tradition is unavoidable in the presence of children who can remember how something was done the year before and traditions do as much to keep us as family (in fact, more) than we do as families in keeping them – and that all of this is as it should be.
Today, my family (today we have my wife, my teenage daugher, and my married son and his wife at home) will make our annual trek to Wartburg, Tennessee, to a tree farm for the selection and harvesting of our Christmas tree. We have done his now for around 17 years. We will also be joined for at least the second time by friends and their growing young family. It’s major.
On my first point: try to change how something was done last year and the sharpness of the memory of youth will challenge the authority of a parent to do such a thing. How things have been done is more important than what a parent says will be done. I have lived with this for years, including, in our family, the last word of Christmas in the home which somehow seems to come from the youngest, unbidden: “This was the best Christmas ever!”
It’s getting harder as the older children will not be home. The event becomes slightly thinner – but even they are waiting for telephoned reports that the Tradition has been kept. They will know, as their own family starts its traditions, that here, at home, all is well and as it should be. And they will feel better about it somehow.
On the second point and this may be more to the point, living in a culture that has so few traditions, it is interesting to see how quickly children (not adults but children) create and cling to tradition. I have noticed that children have no trouble with the idea of repetition. They will watch a video (or a DVD) 50 times in a row without complaint.
I conclude from some of this that tradition is not only normal – it is inevitable. Thus we can only give attention to good traditions and to the greater Tradition which should guide us all. We cannot, without great violence, declare that there will be no traditions. This has been sought through the centuries by various iconoclast regimes (Puritans come to mind the easiest). But they never completely succeed. Today, the descendants of Puritans will seek Christmas trees whether they believe in God or not. The tradition is stronger even than the belief. But the tradition wasn’t given in order to destroy the belief, but to live it out. Only in cultures where great disruptions have occurred do you get the travesty of tradition with no heart. By God’s grace we can have both.
The family is assembling. The tradition will soon clamber into the van to begin the trip. We wait only word from a friend that their youngest child has finished his morning’s nursing. That wonderful tradition will keep us all as well.