But, We Always Do It This Way!
Christmas lights, trees and traditions. It's that time of year again, and this week I went back in time and shared some of my childhood traditions with my 8-year old grandson. He was working on a homework assignment in Social Studies and wondered if I could help him out. He was supposed to interview a family member and find out what Christmas traditions they celebrated when they were children. Soon memories, long forgotten, were flooding through my mind.
The first tradition I shared with him was about making our favorite Swedish cookie. It is a spice cookie called pepparkakor. It’s similar to a ginger snap, but much milder and thin - with cardamom being one of the essential ingredients. Oh, their sweet and spicy goodness just melts in your mouth when they are rolled out super thin. They've been a family favorite for at least four generations, and just last year my 4-year old grandson was caught with a fistful of cookies while grabbing for more. Oh, such fun!
Another Swedish tradition that was passed on to my sister and I included dressing up like St. Lucia – complete with balancing a candle wreath on our head and a tray of baked goods in our hands. I think the candles were only burning long enough for my mom to get a picture of us, but we both thought we were pretty special wearing our white Lucia gown and crowning greenery.
The final tradition I shared with my grandson was that we danced around the Christmas tree. I'm not sure if he made a funny face at his mom when he heard about this strange tradition, but he dutifully wrote it down. Of course, the tree had to be moved out into the middle of the living room for this particular Christmas activity, and I think mom and dad might have joined us as we held hands and skipped around the tree to lively Swedish folk songs.
As you can imagine, the cookie tradition has been passed on to two more generations, but, we didn’t continue the tradition of dancing around the tree or lighting and balancing candles on our children’s heads. I love my Swedish heritage, but it just took too much effort - and I think my husband would have thought I was crazy! So, sweet treats it is – and a few fun memories from days gone by.
Thankfully, my parents didn’t give me a hard time about not passing on the other traditions. And, I really doubt if there is much dancing around trees happening in the typical Swedish home in this century. So, no crisis was caused in our home, with our extended family or between the countries of Sweden and the USA. That might seem a bit extreme to consider, but isn’t that what we sometimes experience within our families and churches when things are changed?
“But, we ALWAYS do it this way!”
Hmmm. Do we? And, if we do, do we still need to? How many years constitutes always? Whatever the tradition, is it time to let it fade away? Or would it be best not to rock the boat on that particular topic at this point in time?
Some traditions die easily. They just slip away unnoticed and become sweet memories. Other traditions die much harder or simply don’t need to die at all. Instead they are celebrated year after year and bring joy and health into holidays and family gatherings. The question would better be asked, “Should we keep doing it this way or is there a better way?” or “Are we all ready for a change?” “Would it be a good thing for our family (or our church) to shake things up a bit, or would it be better not to rattle the cage right now?”
When is the last time you stood back and asked yourself, Why do we do what we do? Have you taken time to consider what traditions, knowingly or unknowingly, are being passed on to future generations? Many traditions are simply fun, but some are full of family history or gems of the faith. Great wisdom is needed to know when to spice things up a bit and when to just embrace the status quo. Perhaps this is the year to let go of something ‘you always do’ to make room for something even better?
Whatever activities and traditions you may enjoy in the days and weeks ahead, may we each rejoice along with Mary as we celebrate the Messiah, Emmanuel, this Christmas season -
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation." Luke 1:46 & 50
Now, that's the way to do it!