For a variety of reasons, we gave serious thought to an artificial Christmas tree as opposed to the traditional fir that we used to cut (with permission from the landowner) and now buy from a local service club. After some discussion and looking, we opted to stay with tradition this year, although we might look at the sales after Christmas. When I shared with a few friends, there were two responses: some were extolling the virtues of artificial trees and others were saying that they would miss the smell of a real tree.
At the same time, I was working on plans for Christmas Eve services. Since I am still in my first year, I was asking some questions about what has been done and what is expected. I discovered that I can do pretty much whatever I want, as long as: it is short, we have everyone light a candle and we close with Silent Night. I am actually wondering if I plan a service with the congregational candle lighting and Silent Night right after the opening prayer if that would be all I need to do.
This is a season of both the church and secular year where traditions abound. We have to have the right kind of tree with the right decorations put on by the right people. We need to right foods at the right times and the right presents for the right people in the right wrapping. Changing the traditions is hard, difficult and provokes a powerful emotional response, even if the tradition is only a year or two old.
I have a marked ambivalence about traditions. Sometimes, I see myself on a mission to root out and change every tradition I run up against. I have my worship notes and sermon on a tablet that I use in the pulpit–no traditional paper and bulletin for me. I sometimes use Christmas music at Easter and Easter music at Christmas. I read and use a variety of Biblical translations, some of which I carry with me as an app on my phone.
Other times, I find myself defending and loving traditions. I love the older hymns in worship. I wear a suit and tie in the pulpit. I want our traditional family meal of lasagna on Christmas Eve and turkey on Christmas Day. And, when I am thinking about Scripture passages, they come to my mind in KJV English not the language of one of the modern translations that I champion and use.
And as I think about traditions, that is likely the way it is for most people. Some traditions we love and some we can wait to change. Traditions become traditions because they have a meaning that is important to us. The meaning is often as much an emotional meaning as anything and because of that, we may have difficulty explaining why it is so important. And because so much of the meaning is emotional, those who don’t share the tradition have great difficulty understanding why it is so important.
All of this means we need to be careful around traditions, both our own and those of others. We can’t just throw them away because they mean nothing to us. The tradition means something to someone and throwing it away needs to be given some thought and some preparation–and sometimes, that importance means that we simply endure what has little meaning for us for the sake of others.
I happen to like the Silent Night tradition on Christmas Eve–but if I didn’t, I would still follow it because the majority of people who come to that worship would go away unsatisfied if we didn’t use it. And while there are times when it is good to challenge people’s traditions, there needs to be a good reason–and I have yet to find a good reason to challenge that particular tradition. But if I ever find a reason to challenge it, I will do so–carefully and with much discussion and planning so that everyone knows why and has a part in the process. Fortunately, I don’t see anything on the horizon that will cause that challenge to come any time soon.
The traditions of Christmas, the traditions of the church, the traditions of a family or group are all there for a reason. There are times and purposes for changing them–but as long as the reasons still hold meaning for people, we might as well enjoy the traditions. So, I will close my short Christmas Eve service with candles and Silent Night and go home to my lasagna, remembering to turn off my tablet when I am done.
May the peace of God be with you.