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Choosing The Traditions We Treasure

When Maddie was six months old and
experienced her first Christmas, Brian and I enjoyed the excuse to
shower our pride and joy with gifts but knew it didn’t really
mean much to her. Last year, we knew Maddie would walk wide-eyed
and awestruck through the Christmas season, and I reveled in every
second of watching her see everything for the first time ever: a
tree in our house! Lights on the bushes! A sock hanging in front of
the television! The experience reminded me of my own wide-eyed
early Christmases, and I truly learned what it’s like to see
with a child’s fresh eyes. This year, though not new and
fresh, is almost more exciting than any of the previous, though,
because for the first time we’re seeing Maddie remember
traditions and anticipate experiencing them again.

Feeling Maddie’s anticipation and
excitement as she delves into the familiar and joyful also
encourages me to pause a moment and examine our traditions. As much
as I love new situations and the unknown, I’m a girl
who’s pretty married to her traditions; I was shocked my
first Christmas married to Brian to discover that not everyone puts
an angel on their tree; some people use a (gasp) star!

There are many traditions in my family that I have deliberately
kept and cultivated, and some new ones I’ve developed on
purpose as well. For example, every year during Advent my family
makes a chex mix with a secret family recipe – one my husband
had bestowed on him on the eve of our wedding (which made me half
fear he wouldn’t show up the next day, having gotten what he
wanted most). We do it a certain way because it’s custom, but
I never forget the Sunday we make it on because of its name: Stir
Up Sunday, so named for the opening prayer for that Sunday which
begins, “Stir up our hearts, O Lord . . .”

One of the traditions I started myself was my annual holiday baking
fest. Baking and giving food away is one of the ways I say,
“I love you,” and with friends and family flung all
across the country it makes me feel as if I’m in their home
having a chat over a cup of coffee. So every year I bake up a storm
and spend an entire day (yesterday) with an assembly line of
cookies, candies, and plastic tubs, putting gifts together and
getting them sent on their way. Yes, I love an excuse to handle
chocolate, but there’s more to it than that. And I see it
rubbing off on Maddie as well: when we first began our holiday
baking she’d beg for bites of whatever we were making.
I’d give her one cookie then tell her, “The rest we
save. We bake and give it away to those we love!” Now, when
she sees the sugared treats piled high on the counters, it
doesn’t even occur to her to ask for a bite; she simply
points and says, “Look at the things we made for the people
we love!”

Of course, most of the joy for her in this Christmas season is in
recognizing something familiar – a snowman unpacked from a
box, or hearing the musical lights come on in our Christmas tree.
She’s delighted her memory is accurate and learning what
delicious anticipation feels like as each subsequent step towards
Christmas is played out: seeing Santa, reading the same books as
last year, finding a tree, discovering the outdoor lights, and so
on. She’s already asked when we hang the socks in front of
the television, so I know my kid’s fast-forwarding through
her mental video to the good stuff.

I’m thinking a lot about traditions because of the excellent
book I’ve been reading, href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FTreasuring-God-Traditions-Noel-Piper%2Fdp%2F1581348339%3Fie%3DUTF8%26s%3Dbooks%26qid%3D1197947971%26sr%3D8-1&tag=1mother2anoth-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325"
target="_blank">Treasuring God In Our Traditions
It’s forced me to take a long look at why and how I do
things; am I clinging to something out of comfort and familiarity,
joy, or just habit? What do these traditions reinforce in my
children as we do them year in and year out? One of my favorite
Christmas traditions from my childhood is our yearly birthday cake
for Jesus. We’d come home from the midnight Christmas Eve
service, light a candle, and sing “Happy Birthday” to
Jesus before going to bed, making that our first official
celebration of the actual day. I love that it reminds us of the
real purpose of Christmas, and am pondering where to do that with
Maddie this year. She won’t be staying up until midnight for
several years yet, and I don’t need a child hopped up on
sugar while trying to sleep before Christmas. Perhaps we’ll
do a birthday breakfast cake in the morning before opening
stockings; cake and presents seem to go together.

Whatever we do, I know I’ll still enjoy seeing Maddie
rediscover all the thrills of Christmas time. And I’ll
continue to plan the traditions we choose, the meanings behind
them, the lessons learned from the repetition. That’s what
Advent is for, anyway: preparing, waiting, anticipating.


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