In a few weeks, our family will be placing five candles (three purple, one pink and one white) in the center of our dining room table. Our children love to remember the hope, love, joy and peace of Jesus as they take turns lighting and blowing out the various candles during the 4-week season of advent. When we participate in this simple tradition, our family finds it a little easier to remember that Jesus is the central figure at Christmastime. Do you have any Christmas traditions like this?
Occasionally, traditions among families happen by accident. For example, my mother’s extended family met at our house over Christmas one year. After all of the festivities were over, my uncles got the idea to take our dying Christmas tree out to our garden and burn it. In the bitter cold and snow packed snow, I remember them standing the tree upright, stuffing it with newspapers, igniting the tree and singing, “Come one ring those bells, light the Christmas tree…” It was so ridiculous that my uncles still laugh about this absurd event to this day. However, our immediate family continued this ‘spontaneous event’ as a tradition for a few more years – until it was illegal to light fires in town. This short-lived (and strange) tradition shows how easy it can be to fall into ‘earthly traditions.’ But what about deeper, spiritually significant traditions?
It takes diligent effort to adhere to spiritually-based traditions within a household. Lightning advent candles throughout December is not difficult, but it does take effort. Other spiritual traditions at Christmas like caroling in the neighborhood, taking twenty-five days to read through the nativity story, giving one another only three small gifts like Jesus received, or gathering to worship on Christmas Eve all take a certain degree of planning. Yet, when practiced, they can deepen one’s faith during the holiday season. If you need some ideas for your family, consider the feasts that the Lord led Israel to keep as recorded in Deuteronomy 16. During the Passover, God’s people ate bread without yeast, stayed awake all night and told stories about leaving Egypt. During the Feast of Weeks, Israel counted each day until the fiftieth day when they all stopped working and threw a huge party for everyone they could think to invite. During the Feast of Booths, they made stick ‘tents’ and camped outside. Then, after a joyful worship service, leaders poured out huge vats of water to remember God as the provider.
I know that Christmas is still several weeks away. However, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how your family and friends could intentionally “be filled with knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Rom 18:14) through intentional, spiritual traditions. If the Lord saw it necessary command Israel to begin festival traditions, there is certainly a deeper, spiritual work which occurs when we weave together ordinary elements to celebrate the work of God. Now, I don’t recommend that you set your Christmas tree on fire, but perhaps there is a new tradition which can find its way into your house this year. May it be that our homes become places where “glorious things about God are spoken” (Psalm 87:3) in words and through simple traditions!