When to open presents was a slight point of contention early on in our marriage. My husband, having spent many of his growing up years in Germany, determined from his childhood that gifts are just naturally exchanged on Christmas Eve. I disagreed. Presents were for Christmas morning. I mean, what fun was it to open your gifts late at night and then just have to go to sleep? Joy, I would argue adamently, came from the anticipation of having to wait until morning.
We were each firmly rooted in our ways because of one thing. Stubbornness. Okay, two things. Stubbornness and tradition. Tradition informed each of us that this is the way we do things. The way our family did things and so the way it must be carried on. So what happens when you bring two humans together who have clashing traditions? Well, you find out quickly which of you has the deepest you’re-not-changing-my-mind-cause-my-way-is-THE-way streak in them. Let’s just say we open presents Christmas morning and carry on, shall we…
I truly believe that traditions hold so much weight in our life because they remind us where we’ve come from. Birthdays look back to the day that we were born. Anniversaries remind us of the day we made a covenant. Christmas takes us back to Bethlehem, the stable, the manger.
“Traditions are a lot like heirlooms. Both probably have come to us through our
families. Some you love; you can’t imagine life without them. Some you’re stuck
with; you don’t know what to do with them. “
Tonight, Christmas Eve, is a night of tradition for us. Traditions we’ve carried with us from our families and handed down to our boys and others that we’ve just started here with our five but trust may be handed down through their families one day.
We all know that the Christmas Eve service at church is what kicks off the festivities. We wet down cow-licked hair and put on shirts with buttons. We remind each other of when it starts and are asked time and time again by the littles if they get to open one present when they get home. They know they get to because it’s the same every year but still they ask. It’s the anticipation and the talking that makes it so exciting.
We hustle out into the cold and dark and make our way to the church with carols playing in the background and each of us pointing out various lights along the way. I can hear the slurping of candy canes being licked from the back seat and I’m not a bit worried about the sugar intake before having to sit in a church service. Because Christmas Eve is not a time to sit still and not wriggle in your seat. It’s THE time to be squirming and singing and clapping off beat.
Our family, we’re fans of the traditional carols sung in the traditional form. No pauses in weird places for jazz appeal, no funked up rythms that we struggle to sing along with, just carols pure and simple belted out from our very cores. And belt we do, though none of us can really sing.
I glanced at the littles to my side and caught a glimpse of heaven in their eyes. They shone as they sang loud and slightly off key. Their lips in wide grins as they watched and listened. Their heads bobbing in unison as they clapped. This wasn’t just any church service. This was a celebration and they knew it. They could feel the energy and their whole bodies showed it. They were wonderstruck by the words, even if they don’t fully comprehend their meaning. They were worshiping, these boys were, and they were singing it up for Jesus their King.
“Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”
I love that the tradition of the Christmas Eve service is so naturally Christ-centered. We don’t have to try, it just is. I wish all traditions came this steeped in Jesus but they don’t. The favourite sugar cereal they get on their birthdays isn’t exactly focused on Christ and the choosing of their favourite restaurant for dinner doesn’t easily proclaim His majesty but I contend that it should.
In our family I want the traditions, the things we’ve handed down to the next generation, the things that they recall when they’re building their families, and the things embedded in their memories when they look back, to be the things of Jesus. I want the most importants and the things that they’re arguing with their spouses over when they get married to be which passage of scripture gets read or how they will celebrate the birth of a King. Will it be with services and carols that honour or with quiet family readings at home or with lighting of candles or serving the poor or sharing gifts with those they love. Whatever it is, I want the things we’ve passed to scream Jesus. I want the memories to shout about our Savious and I want the words Holy and Majesty stamped upon each one.
“Traditions arememories, and they are for memory. Our children and grandchil-
dren don’t have to be locked into the small world of their own experience with God.
Traditions give them a whole world’s worth and a whole history’s worth of God.
“That they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep
his commandments. . .”
**All quotes are taken from Noel Piper’s book Treauring God in Our Traditions. You can download a free pdf of the book here.