Monday, November 29, 2010

Blending Family Traditions



First Generation Christian Families have a unique opportunity to establish meaningful family traditions. Coming together to become one, the husband and wife bring traditions from two differing families, particularly if one or more are non-Christian. Blending family traditions and creating your very own can be both exciting and intimidating. Communication is the key, not only listening to each other’s words but being sensitive to the unspoken, the language of our hearts.
God Is The Center of Our Family
Guilt and shame are often the first thoughts that come to my mind when I hear “family traditions.” Before I had children, even before I married, I longed for happy, meaningful, family traditions. My childhood home had multiple horror stories associated with holidays and the traditions my family kept. Each year we also had a variety of violent abuse from my father, triggered by the slightest unpredictable incident. Drinking, mixed with midnight mass, fear restraining tears, and one to two packages for each of us under the artificial tree was always sorrowful.
Is it any wonder, I had great hope for creating my own happy holidays? The smallest family tradition in love and peace would be heavenly compared to my previous experiences. After my first year of marriage I was longing to strike out on a new path, to start my own merry holiday memories with my husband of six months.
Unfortunately, his parents had their own ideas about how holidays are to be celebrated. No new traditions would be tolerated from the wife of their only son. Lights around the driveway, on the gutters and a few glittering trees greeted us as we drove up. Stockings hung on the mantle next to the plastic holly decorated candles and two or so holiday gift boxes taped but unwrapped lying under the small sparse-limbed, artificial tree.
Football games filled the hours before and after the Christmas Eve party that rotated among the three homes of my husband’s mom, her sister and her niece. We opened the gifts, chatted for a little bit around the football games on TV, and after having dessert we headed home.
Being a new Christian, I desired to celebrate Jesus’ birth, to sing hymns that caroled His story, to attend a candlelight service at Church, to listen to the Bible story of Mary, Joseph and their new baby boy, Jesus. My disappointment and sadness troubled my husband who struggled to see why I found fault in his family. This contention brought great division to our marriage, and seeded disunity in our relationship for almost two decades.
He loved his parents and lived to please them. He was torn between his commitment to his wife, and satisfying his parent’s holiday expectations. He figured the best way to make it as smoothly through the holidays as possible was to ignore me and carry on his family traditions. It was easier to have an upset wife than a tearfully, heartbroken mom.
After our children were born, I was determined to see them experience Christ in Christmas. I bought advent candles, countdown calendars, nativity statues, illustrated Christian Christmas storybooks and fun caroling music. While we decorated our home in simplicity, I censored items to make sure no Santa items entered our home. I wanted Jesus to be the center, not a big old man with a red outfit and a white beard.  We also didn’t feel comfortable about lying to our children about Satan coming to our house.
We still traveled to my in-laws and celebrated their Christmas. They resisted our wish to have a Christ-centered Christmas, and resentment developed into bitterness about our desire to remove Santa from the grandchildren’s holiday.  I was viewed as the troublemaking wife wanting to destroy their family happiness. Instead of innocence, peace, joy and thanksgiving, our Christmas’ became an odd blend of contention and passivity.
Select Traditions for Your Family Together
Sorrow pours out of my heart as I see clearer than ever how Satan stole our Christ-centered Christmas joy. I’ve never noticed before how Santa and Satan share the same letters and look so alike next to one another. This odd comparison makes me wonder, even more, if Satan isn’t behind Santa stealing Christ from Christmas in so many families. So, how does one redeem generations of meaningless holiday traditions from one’s family line?
Grace! Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection are expressions of God’s grace. We don’t deserve to be reconciled to God, but He chose to give us an eternal gift through His son, Christ Jesus. When we have Jesus, all of the presents, decorations, and traditions pale in comparison. Families are blessed through creating traditions that teach generations the importance of the birth of Christ, to ensure that the message of Jesus is given to following generations. Remembering is God’s purpose for traditions, and therefore, it should be ours.
In the end, each, husband and wife, need to  determine what is the best of their own family’s traditions that they long to see continued and what new ideas can be added to celebrate holidays. Conversations about holiday traditions must be mutually honoring with a heart to compromise, and prayerfully seeking God’s will for your family.