Our first child was a Christmas baby - born the day after the first Sunday of Advent. The timing of his birth made that Advent month sharper and softer than any Randy and I had experienced before and we've harken back to it every Advent since.
We were parents. Joseph and Mary and their newborn seemed more real and human and frail and brave.
We also felt a new responsibility. One that the childbirth classes had not mentioned. This little person was going to have memories! There were now going to be Memories that were attached to moments that we would share. Even events that we would orchestrate: family events!
We were now Guardians of Traditions. What traditions in our home might be tinder for bright, beautiful memories?
No one knows how memories really happen - how emotions latch on to events to make them memories.
Why are some big happenings forgotten and some little things remembered? How do memories become etched into our very souls?
I wish I knew! But I don’t.
As new parents, we asked: what should our traditions be? What holidays will we keep - and how? In times when the new family was another link in a long generational chain, such questions weren’t asked. People knew tradition: what was done, how it was done, and when it was done in relation to the seasons of the year and the rhythms of the church.
It’s been called a melting pot: the genetic concoction. For our children, it's Greek, German, British, Swedish, Norwegian, Scotch-Irish, African-American, Guatemalan, and who knows what else! But culturally, what are we? And how do our family traditions underscore that? What is OUR unique family culture - that goes deeper than our genetic inheritance?
There are the so-called "secular" events: the birthday parties and anniversaries, the New Year's Eves, and Thanksgivings, and July 4ths; the spontaneous snow days and the planned vacations. They may not be officially thought of as "sacred" but they can become that as we hold them so. As we pray them into being sacred for our family. And they all are tinder for memories.
And there are the sacred events: Lent, and Advent, and sacraments like baby dedications and baptisms.
In the juxtaposition of the sacred and the secular, the “secular" can become sacred. Jesus took such familiar things - bread, wine, light, gate, vine, sheep - and made them holy by making them His. Making them Him.
Oh how I wished I could see His holy hands tear that bread on that night; His last meal. Surely those who watched it never saw bread the same way again. And that wine that was splashed into cups was just a beverage. Before the real Bread was torn and the real Wine was spilled. The significance of those humble elements became cataclysmic - shared by His Body for millenia. In remembrance.
We’re made to need rituals - every culture has them. They calibrate us - they connect us - they establish our homes and families. For Christians, we think of the notable rituals as described in the Bible: the Passover (remember what God did), the Sabbath (keep it), the Last Supper (do this in remembrance). Remember - keep - do.
Traditions: held in the heart, honored by the repetition, described in the words.
We can’t create holiness - the Holy One does that. But we can set days and seasons apart. Mark them as important. Hold them in reverence. And hopefully, our children - our lineage - by bearing witness to such happenings in our homes will claim them as their own. And their children's children to come.
The power of traditions is in the repetition. The simple acts repeated in the seasons of our life.
One little memory I have that I hope my children remember: kneeling in the bathroom next to a just-sick child, ready with a cool hand, a damp washcloth, and a piece of chewing gum - just like my mom did for me. Many years ago.
"There is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about education. But some good, sacred memory preserved from childhood – that is perhaps the best education. For if a man has only one good memory left in his heart, even that may keep him from evil.…And if he carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe for the end of his days."
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov