“Oh Dad…do we really have to do this again?”
“Don’t you think we’re getting to old for this?”
“It’s so corny.”
The joys of being a parent of a teen and a tween! But I wasn’t going to give up! Traditions matter!
What was it they were complaining about? It was about our Advent and Christmas traditions.
First, they didn’t want to go get the tree with us…but they went somewhat grudgingly. In the end though, they had fun, and got to have a say in which tree we would have.
For as long as we’ve been married, we’ve had a live Christmas tree, and since we’ve lived in our current house, the tradition has been that we go down the street to hunt through the acres of trees for just the right one and to cut it down and bring it home – always on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Getting the kids to go with us this year was a struggle, but come they did. And of course as I was tying the tree to the top of the car for the short ride home, they ran back to the owners of the tree farm for their annual candy cane for the ride home!
Another tradition that we hold close to is that we observe Advent.
Despite getting the tree (which we do so they’re not sold out), we are not in full “Christmas mode.” Our Tradition is to sing, pray, and listen as the story of Jesus’ birth unfolds each night of Advent. Here’s the song we listen to.
And the story is read from an Advent calendar made up of little books, each with a piece of the story! Then we pray, sing the refrain, and off to bed.
Each year the kids complain, but they go along with it. Today, as I placed the wreath on the table and took out the candles, I heard my son humming the tune for the Advent Song. I’m not sure that he was aware he was even doing it.
But why do you do that if your kids complain?
It’s actually very simple.
I do this because I love my kids, because I know today that the traditions my parents established for me and my siblings are part of who I am, and I carry them with me. Soon enough my parents will not be with us anymore, but I will have these traditions that I carry with me for life.
I want that for my children too. That, when I am gone from here, my children and their children (hopefully), will have something of me and my wife that they can bring into their homes.
Traditions are not merely those things that we do repeatedly just because we must. Those are routines. And in truth, there are some things like that that we need to let go of.
Traditions are the life-giving practices from the past that we bring into the present. They remind of what is important, where we came from, and who we are.
By using traditions, we do not simply engage in repeated practices with no meaning. Rather, the word tradition specifically refers to the handing down of a set of beliefs and customs that speak to the core of who we are.
In keeping tradition, we encounter the memories of our family and of our faith.
In keeping tradition, we acknowledge the gift of life and love so freely shared with us.
In keeping tradition, we respond by bringing the past to life. In our hearts, and in our minds’ eye we can see and hear those loved ones now living at a distance or who have left this life.
But what if we don’t have any traditions?
Make new ones!
The two I mentioned were not part of my family as a childhood, not directly. We had an artificial tree. Me and my brothers would go into the attic and get it down and decorate it – on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
My daughter is adopted, so we keep “adoption day” by visiting the Shrine in Litchfield that we went to on the day she officially became ours.
So ask yourself these questions, take it to prayer – ask… but take more time to listen than to speak:
- Who am I?
- Who are we as a family?
- Where are we from, ethnically, locally, spiritually?
- What matters most to us?
- How can we celebrate that best?
- What is it, that when I/we are gone, should the children remember with a smile (and a tear)?
- What stories do I/we want them to tell?
As we begin this Advent Journey, let’s start by taking inventory of who we are and keep watch that what is important to us is treasured and transmitted, so that another generation may build on what we’ve begun!