Family Traditions—

Yikes! It’s that busy, busy time of year—parties, play practices, Christmas concerts, cookie baking, shopping, wrapping, decorating—whew!  You may find yourself wondering, “How on earth can I do it all, make the holidays meaningful, and still survive?”

Well, dear parent, let’s start off with taking a deep breath. Recognize that we all tend to feel this pressure. We want those things that “help to make the season bright.” As you make decisions about what you will do for this Christmas (and other holidays), I’d like to help you think through the purpose of traditions. We read in Joshua 4 that the Israelites were to take stones from the midst of the Jordan, when it had dried up enabling them to cross, and stack them on the shore. Why? So that when the children asked them, “What do those stones mean to you?” the parents could tell them about how God had cut off the waters of the Jordan before the Ark of the Covenant, and they all had walked across on dry land. These rocks could be seen and touched. They were tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness. They were stacked as a memorial.

A memorial—I think that’s what traditions are to be: simple, tangible “structures” that point our children to God’s faithfulness. Ah, but we can feel trapped by our long-held traditions and overwhelmed by them as we try to make the perfect holiday experience for our family. But, my friends, then we are missing the point! Here are some questions I want you to ask about your family traditions:

  • What is the value of this tradition, and what does it accomplish?
  • Is the result worth the extra effort?
  • How can you use this tradition to point your children to Jesus?
  • Can you make changes so that it has the maximum gospel-impact, for the least amount of stress?

My hope for you is that when your children ask you, “Why do we cut down a tree and bring it into our living room?” you, having carefully examined your traditions, will be able to reply in true “Bible memorial fashion” that the evergreen is a reminder of God’s everlasting love for His people, and the lights you string among its branches remind all who see them that Jesus is the Light of the World (John 8:12).  You water it and remember that we are to be like trees planted by streams of living water (Ps. 1:3).  As you hang the ornaments from its branches you remind your children how God hung the planets and stars in the heavens for His glory. And together you repeat the stories that go with each ornament, reflecting  with your children on God’s faithfulness to your family through the years. Of course you’ll bake cookies! You will take them hot from the oven, inhaling the fragrance, and explain to your children that the Bible tells us our prayers are like wonderfully fragrant incense to the Lord. Together you’ll wrap presents, and as you do, you’ll lean in close and ask your children if they know the greatest Gift ever.

Guard your time, dear parent. Don’t be busy for busyness’ sake. Be purposeful and let every tradition drip with reminders of the goodness of the Lord. In short, build traditions that are memorials!

Lisa Updike, Director of Children’s Ministries at Covenant Presbyterian in Harrisonburg, VA, has been in love with Jesus since she was a little girl and has always been passionate about sharing the gospel with others. She has extensive ministry experience which includes homeschooling, teaching in Christian Schools, working as a learning disabilities therapist, leading children’s choirs, and spearheading children’s programs in several churches over the last 30 years. Lisa and Kevin have 4 children (3 through adoption).