Traditions - Monday Musing, November 15, 2021
Traditions. Christmas is a mere 40 days away, which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Typically this time of year we become nostalgic for family traditions of days gone by. “Remember when we were kids we would race downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought us?” “Remember the time at Thanksgiving dinner Uncle Frank told us the story about…?” There are countless memories and anecdotes we keep tucked away that easily flow from our lips around the holidays. Oh, the good ole days – life moves on, but our memories are forever. Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote: “We look before and after, And pine for what is not; Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”
Around the holidays, we hand down information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction – which is the precise definition of tradition. Traditions are important in our lives because they provide a sense of belonging and meaning. They ground us in our family, our faith customs, our tribe, our community. We know “our people” because of the shared traditions that we hold with one another.
Which has me thinking – how does a tradition begin anyway? What makes something we know, believe, or share become a tradition in time? It’s easy for us to remember, miss, or carry-on established traditions, but how do we start one? Or in the case of a global pandemic, restart one? We are twenty-one months into a pandemic that has upended individual, family, church, and community traditions. I have noticed recent posts on social media showing joyous family celebrations – loved ones getting together for the first time since the global pandemic began. There is such delight on people’s faces hugging, kissing, and being with family and friends. Annual events we once enjoyed are now back after a pandemic-delayed hiatus.
For some of us, our usual traditions are still on hold because of concerns about COVID-19. For others, the activities and routine of daily living have established new patterns, which has resulted in unexpected new traditions for us. The holidays are a time of reflection, so we should name the fact that traditions have changed. There is a liturgy in the United Church of Christ Book of Worship that is used for times of passage and farewell that says: “Our church family is constantly changing. People come and go… It is important and right that we recognize these times of passage, of endings and beginnings.”
A global pandemic has me thinking a new liturgy: “Our church family has changed. Traditions come and go… It is important and right that we recognize these times of passage, of endings and beginnings.” Traditions bring families and communities of faith together; traditions reinforce values, faith, and mission. Traditions can be started, paused, ended, and new traditions can be created. So let us hand down information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from our generation to the next. See you in church!