Tradition and Heritage

Here are some of the notes from a recent talk I gave on heritage and tradition. I think it is appropriate given the holiday season. What traditions do you implement in your home?

What is a tradition?
A tradition is a planned habit with significance.2 It’s a specific way you do something in particular – the way you dress, the way you celebrate holidays, etc.

Why do we have traditions? Psalm 78:1-72

1. We are commanded to teach our children: (v. 4-5)
The glorious deeds of the Lord – what God has done in our lives
The might of God – the nature of God
The wonders God ahs done – what God has done in history
The testimony and law of God – how God wants us to live
2. So our children should set their hope in God (v. 7)
3. So they will not forget the works of God, the basis of their trust (v. 7)
4. So they will keep his commandments – the life they will live because of their trust in God (v. 7)

Traditions must have a verbal component. How else will our children understand what we are trying to teach them?

We’re all so busy. How do we fit traditions in?

  • Evaluate them. Don’t feel like you have to adopt every tradition your family has or every good idea you hear. Figure out which ones teach what is important to you and scrap the rest.
  • Adapt them. Make your traditions fit your own family’s personality, learning style and schedule. You might also need to adapt them to create meaning and teachable moments.
  • Choose them. Be intentional about the traditions you implement. Don’t choose more than you can accomplish, just because they sound like good ideas. One or two done well will be better than many done half-heartedly. Try to limit traditions to those which serve a purpose and teach something.
  • Create them. All traditions got started somewhere. Don’t be afraid to start new traditions. It may be more enjoyable and energizing for your family to do something you create together.

Some wisdom from Carol Brazo:

Basically there are two main ingredients in our Christmases. One is planning. I plan the budget by January 1. I figure out how much Christmas is likely to cost us, add a hundred dollars to it and still come out wrong! But it helps to be that close and to have the money taken out all year long. We plan our December calendar as a family, agreeing on which events are keepers and which ones we will carefully omit. We also plan with our extended families in mind. The second ingredient…is the most important to me. We…select one aspect of the Christmas story on which to focus. Usually it changes from year to year. Often we think we are changing it only to find that the Lord has used new people in the story to reteach us last year’s truth. One year it was the Savior baby. The next year it was the mother of Jesus. It has been lights, shepherds, the star, the relationship between Joseph and his bride and Anna and Simeon. 3

Ideas for Christmas traditions:

  • As you approach the holiday season, read and meditate on the story of His birth. What story interests you most? What was it like to be in their shoes? How can you use the stories of these people or things to build your Christmas – as décor, in your devotions, in your gift-giving? How can you teach your children the truths found in their stories? What one aspect of their stories has a lesson for your own life? Spend time in prayer, committing yourself to learn the lessons their stories can teach you. Set aside specific time to teach your family the truths you are learning. 3
  • On November 15, sit down as a family and agree upon a December calendar of family events. Remember more is not better. Guard your time, lest you find yourself celebrating Christmas without worshipping Christ. 3
  • Incorporate the use of an advent calendar or advent candles. In our family, we have an advent tree where we open an ornament each day and read a Scripture associated with the aspect of the Christmas story that ornament represents.
  • Decide on whether or not Santa is appropriate for your family. 2
  • Set up a nativity scene and teach your children through the different pieces. Collect your gifts underneath. Use it as a gathering place for family devotions. 2
  • Create a Bethlehem branch or Jesus tree where you hang ornaments and items which picture or symbolize the Bethlehem event. 2
  • Give a gift to Jesus by making a special donation to a local family, ministry, missionary, etc. Offer children special “wages” that can be earned for Jesus’ gift. 2
  • Have a Shepherd’s Pouch, in which children collect money for Jesus’ gift through December. Lay it at the nativity scene on Christmas eve and talk about the gifts that were brought to Jesus when he was born. 2
  • Consider alternative gift giving. Donate to a missions organization in the place of buying one more gift for a family member.
  • Volunteer at a local missions organization to serve as a family.
  • Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and eat it on Christmas morning before opening presents.
  • Set aside a special day that you spend together every year as a family (and everyone in the family knows it). For example, make the first Saturday after Thanksgiving the day you go to a tree farm to cut down a tree or the Saturday before Christmas you all pile into the car and go to Starbucks for hot chocolate and then drive around looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music.
  • Give only three gifts to your family members at Christmas. Three being significant because it’s the number that the wise men brought. The limited number helps your children (and you) focus on the meaning of the holiday, not on what they will be receiving. It also makes the gifts more meaningful.

1Jim Weidmann,
2 adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper
3 Carol Brazo, No Ordinary Home


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