Some of those traditions include: watching selected holiday movies in a specific order (ending with “It’s a Wonderful Life”), listening to Christmas music every day; buying and displaying a real Christmas Tree; attending at least one Lessons and Carols Service; opening Christmas gifts on Christmas morning--only after stockings have been opened first; eating a traditional turkey dinner with all the “fixings” on Christmas Eve (thanks to my amazing wife); visiting Santa Claus in order to hand off the Christmas lists (this year’s letters include requests for Legos, metal detectors, and a Barbie Dream House). As a family on Christmas Eve, we will read both the Nativity Story, and The Night Before Christmas before putting our stockings up, and leaving our tray of chocolate chip cookies and milk for Santa---along with reindeer food on the lawn. Later this month, we will also travel to Tennessee to spend time with my family. We're keeping our fingers crossed for at least a few snowflakes while we visit up north.
Certainly, my short list of rituals is not all-encompassing, and will no doubt evolve as my own children grow;. However, I must confess that these traditions have real meaning for me, and, while many of them are carryovers from my own childhood, a few are recent additions. In fact, legendary British author, C. S. Lewis claims,:
“There are not Christmases, there is only Christmas--a composite (remove extra space here) day made up from the haunting impression of many Christmas Days, a work of art painted by memory.”
Interestingly enough, I recently read an informative and entertaining work by the noted Victorian scholar, Judith Flanders, entitled, Christmas: A Biography. In her work, Flanders shares a full history of the holiday, noting the importance and power of ritual and tradition, particularly in the celebration of Christmas, stating:
“For, while Christmas has transformed itself over the centuries, from a time for the nobility to display their wealth to their dependents, to a time for adults to enjoy what little extra they could gather, to a festival primarily for and about children--from elite to mass, from adult to child, from public to family--while the holiday has altered, it has survived, it has thrived, because, ultimately, Christmas is not what is, or even has been, but what we hope for.”
Perhaps the power lies in this desire to capture our youthful spirit, engaging fully in the joy of the day, for as the famous American author Laura Ingalls Wilder so simply states:
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
Or, perhaps the beauty of this season rests in its placement of high importance on kindness, charity, and selflessness. During this festive season, we celebrate who we are, and who we can be; that is, our better natures can and will, ultimately, prevail. We celebrate the power of humanity----the belief that we are connected to one another. We can, therefore, continue to strive and hope for a better world--a world in which peace, harmony, and togetherness not only exist, but thrive.
Accordingly, it is only fitting in this writing to include a reference to the classic Victorian tale, A Christmas Carol, written by the great Charles Dickens. Appearing in 1843, during a time of decline of Christmas traditions in Britain, A Christmas Carol transformed the way the holiday is observed. Dickens himself is credited by historians for reviving an interest in Christmas. One of the strongest arguments for Christmas occurs early in the story when Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, explains his reason for continuing to invite Uncle Scrooge to Christmas dinner each year:
"I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
As we head into the height of the season, I wish each of you an enjoyable time with your family and loved ones, celebrating your own unique rituals to the very fullest. Whatever your traditions hold, I hope that you will find peace, happiness, and prosperity both now and in the coming New Year.