Before we know it, the holidays will be about piling used wrapping paper into the garbage, cleaning up from a meal, and debating when it is appropriate to start taking down the decorations. When my daughter was young, as we put away the decorations, I often was haunted by the question, Did she get more than presents this Christmas? It was an honest question that didn’t always have a clear-cut answer.
The days leading up to and away from the remembrance of our Savior’s birth are times when many families re-enact various traditions. In our own family, a variety of traditions play out during this time from the food we eat, to the specific placement of certain decorations, to the appearance of the kings in our nativity, to the reading of Luke 2, to the way in which we give and receive presents; all of it is guided by years of tradition. I would bet many families engage in traditions that have been passed along from parents to children over many years. Which returns us to the haunting question: In all our festivities, activities, and traditions, are we passing along more than presents to our children?
Tradition, often seen as a negative thing, in fact means, “handing down.” God institutes many traditions with the Israelites for the express purpose of ensuring that each generation will pass down to their children the stories, experiences, laws, and practices that will make them a peculiar people, blessed to be a blessing. We would do well—not only at Christmas—to ask ourselves, What are we passing down? In our families and churches, what are we intentionally passing down to ensure that the glowing coals of God’s character and purpose will start a fire in the lives of our children?
“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
-Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)