Friday, November 6, 2015

Holiday habits…

We just made it through Halloween. I believe this was the last annually-occurring “significant moment” before our first anniversary as foster parents. The little guy arrived in November last year, so we had him for Christmas, Easter, summer vacation, Back to School, etc. But we hadn’t shopped for and wore costumes with him. Now we have. Check!

I think we did alright. A friend encouraged us to join her and her cousin at ValleyFair. I’d never been to this amusement park; was happy to try it. T, at first, was uncertain. Then, he found a room in which he could run around and shoot soft balls at us with air cannons. That was awesome, obviously. Things looked up. He even attempted two rollercoasters. Being Halloween, they had staff stationed near several rides for “Trick or Treating.” T liked that too! And that, basically, was all we did.

We arrived home near dark. So we made a brief appearance at our neighborhood community center. They were hosting a “Halloween Party”, i.e. costumes, kids’ games, candy. But we decided against actual Trick or Treating. After all, T’s not obsessed with candy. Neither are we big on giving him extra sugar. Besides, he gets nervous about new things, like strange houses and people. All in all, I think that was a good decision.

Part of me, however, worries that I “robbed” him of a quintessential experience of American childhood. I know, I know, “There’s always next year.” But who knows if we’ll have him next year? Or, even if we do, once you do something one way, it has a habit of becoming habit, right? A one-off activity easily transforms into precedent. Thus, next October, maybe he’ll decide that rollercoasters is what Halloween “means,” and beg we go again. Suppose the same transpires the following year. Suddenly, it’s tradition!

Would I want that? Well, in that unlikely scenario, I’d be glad to not fight every November over how fast bags of sugar get ingested. But once something becoming “tradition,” oftentimes other options get sidetracked, poo-pooed or simply forgotten. What “feels right” is what you’ve always done. Changing course can oftentimes be painful. You may even require a strong, outside force to force the issue (like skyrocketing ticket prices!).

Now, apply that thinking to religion. Our beloved Christian Season is coming. Churches and families have many things they “always do” during Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. People eat specific foods. Congregations light particular candles. Musicians play exactly the songs we expect, and they better not forget, because without “Silent Night” the season is meaningless, amen?! Amen…? Obviously, I jest. But not entirely. People protect Holiday Traditions with ferocious loyalty.

One reason we love these traditions, of course, is exactly because they’re familiar. We often provide other rationales too, tied to the stories and theologies of Christ’s birth. And some of those are great! Other times, though, it’s transparent we haven’t thought the issue fully through. For instance, every year, Christians ask about the precise details of Advent Wreath Candles. “Is this Joy Candle Sunday, or Peace Candle Sunday?” As if that’s in the Bible. Which, of course, it isn’t. It became a tradition because someone had a good idea once that others copied, continued copying, and now we assume each Sunday has one precise “meaning.”

So how about this year we commit to opening ourselves to new practices, new possibilities? For Adult Sunday School, I’ll teach about different Advent traditions from around the Christian World. Hopefully, we’ll discover interesting and fresh holiday ideas we never thought to think about. Along with that, perhaps you’ll pause to ponder what else you do; the foods you cook, the decorations you put up, the attitudes you change, the giving you plan. When you do so, think specifically about whether you do this stuff with purpose and joy, or whether they’re simply habits you’ve fallen into. 

If the former, bravo! If the latter, you needn’t change, necessarily. You can! More importantly, though, I hope you’ll be fully thoughtful about your Holiday traditions and activities. Because I heard somewhere once that this season- done well- can bring tidings…of great joy… That’s right, isn’t it?

Grace and Peace,

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