There once was a young mother we’ll call “Susan” who volunteered to cook the Christmas turkey for the big family dinner. This being her first time to cook a turkey herself, she recalled her careful observations of her mother’s cooking techniques from past Thanksgivings and Christmases. She remembered that her mother cut the turkey into parts and placed them in a large pan. Her husband “Barry” came in and asked “Why are you cutting that turkey up?” Susan replied “because this is what I always saw my mother do. I don’t know why she cut it up. Its just something you’re supposed to do.” Confused, Barry responded he has never seen this done before, that his family never did it that way, and so on. This raised the curiosity of Susan, who called her mother and asked why the turkey should be cut up. The mother laughed and responded “My oven is too small for the turkey so I cut it up!” Some traditions arise from practicality, while others come from attempts to uphold and transmit values.
This story highlights the power of ritual and tradition, and also the tendency to just continue behaviors without questioning the reason behind the tradition or ritual. This is a relevant topic for this time of year, which is so driven by family and cultural traditions. At Christmas time we mostly have the same cultural rituals (i.e., have a Christmas tree, put up lights, open presents, have a big family meal). At the same time, most of us also create unique variations to these common practices in our families. For instance, on Christmas Eve our family will open up one present, read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and participate in the candlelight service at Emmanuel Baptist Church. On Christmas morning we always have orange rolls for breakfast. These rituals and traditions are fun. When I get excited about Christmas coming, I’mmostly thinking about the rituals and traditions that bring our family together. Traditions give you the feeling of “this is what we do.” They become a very important part of your
Something every family should do occasionally is to examine their rituals and traditions. What traditions do you observe in your family? Do you know the stories behind them? When, how, and why did they get started? For instance, I just asked my wife why we have orange rolls on Christmas morning. She explained that its just something we started when our kids were babies because it was easy and they taste good. They’ve become part of the thing we have to do every Christmas now! Other traditions have more meaning packed into them from long ago. Take the giving and receiving of gifts as an example. The meaning behind that tradition is that it reminds us of the gift of God’s grace through his son Jesus Christ, and its also a reminder of the gifts the wise men from the east gave to the Christ child.
When two people come together and form a family with children, it can be challenging to negotiate which traditions from whose family of origin will they continue to observe in their new family. I strongly suggest that this be an open discussion. Further, I believe it is very important for young families to develop some rituals of their own in addition to the ones they inherited. This solidifies and strengthens their family identity. While often overlooked, it is even more important in the case of blended or “step” families. Coming up with new traditions that are unique to the newly formed family will create a sense of belonging, identity, and shared experience.
If you are interested in forming some new family traditions or rituals (for the holidays or any occasion), here are some tips to consider. First, review the traditions from your family of origin and consider the importance of these to you; do they need to be kept or discarded? Second, identify what values are important for your family. For example, if community service is important to your family then developing a tradition of serving a meal to someone need, or participating in Operation Shoebox (http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/) might be something to consider around the holidays. Finally, openly discuss the meaning of the tradition with your family when you are participating in that tradition-making activity: “this is what we do and this is why we do it.” Being more aware of your holiday traditions will help you appreciate them more. They make you and your family special. Enjoy them!