Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my grandmother passed away. She was a big part of my growing up, and especially my holiday memories. She LOVED Christmas. Her house contained more decorations than I could imagine humanly possible. It was a wonderland for a small child, well maybe even a not so small child. As much as she loved to decorate, she equally loved order. We were not to savagely tear into our presents, but one at a time in youngest to oldest fashion, we carefully unwrapped each gift, salvaging the paper and bows to be stored away for the next year. This became quiet the joke in the teenage years among my siblings. Who would get that 1980 Santa bow? Where would the snowman box consisting of more scotch tape than box be hidden? It was a new take on an old tradition, but equally as amusing.
In the weeks of cleaning out her overly decorated house (decorations were not just reserved for Christmas), I was running out of boxes and time, and hastily threw a semi-fragile item into a box full of Christmas wrappings I found so as to provide some cushion for the trip home.
This week, in unpacking, I opened the box and realized it was not just any box, but the box that contained years worth of ribbons and bows. LOTS of ribbons and bows. It was a sentimental moment followed by, “what in the world am I supposed to do with all of this? I don’t have the heart to throw it away.” And then it hit me, I had an idea. We were supposed to take our son to an advent workshop the week before to make his first advent wreath, but instead were attending my grandmother’s funeral. My pastor graciously saved us a kit, but the kit did not include the greenery. I meticulously began the chore of untangling the long strand of green ribbon from the box. I took the ribbon and wove it in and out of the wire wreath frame. In under an hour I had a new, mostly cat-proof Advent wreath. My son will grow up with a unique wreath, with a unique story. He’ll miss out on the things I remember, but in the spirit of Christmas, this will be part of the retelling. He will be the first child to grow up with Advent in our family, but it will be linked to a generation before. Our tradition has been reimagined.
Whether it was re-imagining their traditions and practices in exile, celebrating Passover in the midst of Roman centurions, or migrating for a census, the Israelites were continually challenged to adapt a faith practice both consistent with their tradition and accessible in their current context .
As I get older I find myself less interested in the stringent control of faith practice. The oft-recommended lengthy morning devotional in early solitude becomes less of a discipline and more of a burden with a newborn in the house. But the quiet time spent praying for the future of a child, dedicating their life to God over and over can become a new form of devotion. A soldier on deployment may not get to attend “church” as his mother always beckoned him to do, but in a tent full of friends, singing and praying together, the soldier finds church community like he’s never known. Tradition reimagined allows us to carve out the cultural pieces, the best practices taught in days of different circumstances and moves us to a reflection on why the tradition exists at all. Tradition allows for an important ordering in our lives, our families, our cultures etc., but the impotence for those traditions is of far greater importance.
This Christmas may you gently ask yourself of your family, why do we do the things we do? Where does this come from? You may find a greater connection to history that you never knew, or you may find room for new life in new experiences as the old ones fade. Whatever the case may be, let the guilt of traditions lost melt away, and may you find room in your heart to reimagine.