“Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is.”
That is a partial explanation of tradition, as given by Tevye, the protagonist in Fiddler on the Roof. And Tevye is right; tradition is important. Traditions give family members shared stories, even across generations, and provide hooks for our memories. As my mother-in-law would say in paraphrasing Jonas Salk, tradition gives us the roots that enable us to eventually develop wings to fly.
Sadly, though, I’ve noticed that many young parents seem to lack such rootedness.
Very often in recent years, especially around this time of year, I’ve seen a great many young moms beseeching social media groups: “What traditions should we start with our kids?”
I love that these women appreciate the value of tradition. But my heart breaks that they feel compelled to ask complete strangers for advice on the matter. That tells me they probably lack a history of memorable traditions to carry on from their own childhoods, and also that they doubt their abilities to develop meaningful traditions on their own without others’ approval. And it tells me they likely feel pressured by the “Pinteresting of Christmas” – i.e., the notion that they must put together the “perfect” Christmas image.
My daughters are now 13 and 14, and my family has traditions. We go to the same tree farm every year, and then my husband and daughters decorate the tree we’ve picked while I “supervise.” We read from the same series of Advent devotionals every December. The girls open one gift each – a new pair of pajamas - every year on Christmas Eve. And even though they’re well past the age of believing in Santa, we still go to see “our Santa” – the same man who’s played the role at a certain mall every year for the last 20.
Our traditions are sweet and beautiful. But here’s the thing: As organized as I typically am, I didn’t orchestrate a grand “tradition plan” right along with my birth plan. I didn’t scour the web in search of the “best” traditions. I didn’t survey my friends – or, heaven forbid, online strangers – to gauge whether or not I was doing it right. Instead, we’ve simply lived life together as a family – aiming to be in the moment at all times – and enjoy what has come our way. In the process, a series of traditions unique to our family was planted and has taken root.
If you’re seeking to strengthen your family with Christmas tradition – and I hope you are – I encourage you to plan a few activities you think would be fun and meaningful for your particular family…no matter who else is doing what. Then fully engage in them with your family and watch. Watch to see which ones really resonate so you can do them again. If you purpose to live your daily life being emotionally and relationally present for your family instead of fretting about getting the image of things “right,” I promise you that you will have those traditions – the ones that will undoubtedly cause your kids to know exactly who they are.