Finding Harmony in Advent: Day 16
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2: 11
One of the things that many people seem to enjoy about Christmas is observing certain rituals and traditions. Family sociologists tell us that ritual functions as a way of imparting family values, memories and bonding. Whether they actually keep families together is another question. I think the high divorce rate pretty well disproves that. You can slavishly keep a bunch of family traditions and wind up divorced.
Still, traditions can help bring people together. I’ve interviewed Tony Campolo twice, once in person for a radio program here, and another time by phone for Living magazine. Tony is a sociologist, professor, author of many books and an Italian Christian humorist.
In one of his speeches, “Tradition: Key to a Close Knit Family” Tony recalls (some of it tongue-in-cheek) his family’s hallowed Christmas traditions from longer ago:
“At our house when our kids were little, we were big on ritual; the kids would get up on Christmas morning at 5 a.m. I don’t know what it is about kids and Christmas. Any other day you can’t get them up, but on Christmas, everyone gets up at 5 a.m. But the rule at our house is you can’t go in and get the good stuff under the tree until Mom and Dad get up at 8 o’clock. We don’t believe that God is up before 8 o’clock at our house! The kids can get up and play with the stuff that we’ve hung in their stockings in their room, but can’t open the good stuff.
“Then at 8 a.m., we go in and get them, walk right through the living room with all of those presents, and right in the kitchen and have breakfast! You say, how do you get kids to eat breakfast on Christmas morning? Easy, we’ve always done it this way. We have a ritual. That’s ritual, that’s tradition.
“Then after breakfast, Bart, the youngest, would go to the pile of presents under the tree, and get a present, and bring it to Mother, and say, ‘Who is it for?’ Mother would read the label on the present, the present got delivered to that person, the person would open the present, we’d all comment on it, pass it around, we’d all look at it, appreciate it.
“And then it was time for Present # 2! You say, ‘It’s going to take you all morning to open presents!’ You bet it will.
“You say, ‘That’s terrible.’ No, what’s terrible is when you let kids jump into the pile of presents and in three minutes Christmas is over. Instead, we drag it out.
“Ritual makes it delicious, ritual heightens the excitement, as you sit there, trembling, wondering who is going to get The Big One.
“And then in the afternoon we always went to visit my parents and we always went to visit my wife’s parents. And you say, ‘Always?’ Always. Never deviate. A ritual is a ritual. ‘Why are you so rigid?’
Well, it is simple. One of these days I’m going to be the grandfather, and I want my kids with their kids to visit me. And they won’t visit me unless they have it as a ritual. I want my kids to be trained like Pavlov’s dogs; I want my kids on Christmas afternoon feeling that they have to go see Grandpop and Grandma or else they will have a nervous breakdown! I like that in my kids, and there is no way of insuring that the next generation will do what they are supposed to do unless you wrap it up in a ritual!”
Used by prior permission. See Tony Campolo website for more video stories.
Tony, later in his speech, confesses that rituals do have to change as the family grows and adds new members, in-laws, step-children, grandchildren. But you get his point. Conserving family traditions and rituals is a way to create memories and glue for your family.
When couples first get married and start their own traditions, they may argue about everything from what kind of lights to put on the tree, to what kind of tree to get, whether it is artificial or real, whether to put it up early or late. My husband and I put up our tree this weekend; I missed being able to do it with children and we had a discussion about switching to LED lights, discarding the lights he used from before we were married. This is the first time he was ever willing to discuss getting new lights, due to changing technology and energy savings.
The Christmas season can be rife with this type of stress, decision making, and desire to have “everything perfect.” The sooner we learn that things don’t have to be just so—and that compromise and adapting are also part of the scene, the sooner we will have a truly merry Christmas in the spirit of the Christ child whose birth we celebrate.
What is your most ironclad tradition that you have to do a certain way
or someone will feel “it is not Christmas”?
Or, was your most recent discussion about a tradition or custom you’ve
had to adapt and change because of changing life circumstances?