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“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions  even as I delivered them to you.” (I Corinthians 11:2)

There is probably no holiday that highlights the practice of tradition more than Christmas.  One family saves their Christmas tree following the season. As the wood begins to dry out, it is cut into logs which are saved to burn in their fireplace the following Christmas Eve. A newly-established tradition at our home was initiated several years ago following a visit to the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World where I purchased a pickle ornament from a store in the Germany attraction. I learned that it is tradition there for parents to hide this ornament on their tree for the children to find on Christmas Eve. The child who locates the special decoration receives an extra gift from Saint Nicholas as most observant child.  When I was in my teens, my family was invited to attend church with our neighbors on Christmas Eve. The church held their service at 11 p.m., so by the time you were singing the last hymn – it was Christmas Day. During the numerous choruses of Silent Night, candles were lit all over the sanctuary by each attendee. As the service concluded, participants were encouraged to make it home with their candle still burning. In this way, you were carrying the light of Christ out into the world and also bringing His light into your own home.  In the last few years we attended, this practice was discouraged.  Even though protectors had been provided for each candle, apparently too much wax was being dripped onto the carpet in the church. I suppose it was a practical consideration, but the significance of the candle lighting and the challenge to get it home somehow forfeited a tradition that, for me, was never quite the same.

In the Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the main character Tevye sets a major theme for the play. He says: “Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many many years . . . For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask – how did this tradition get started. I’ll tell you . . . I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, everyone of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” We all try to hold on to our traditions, as the world around us is constantly changing. Sometimes we have no idea why they were started. Jesus rebuked the judgment of the religious leaders and teachers of the law who were making accusations about His disciples not following the ceremonial practices of the day. His response to them was, simply – “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:6-9).

Traditions can be comforting to us on many levels, and sometimes they will be questioned by those who challenge the sincerity of our faith.  For instance, in Jeremiah 10:3-4 we read: “A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.” At first glance, it might seem that this passage is referring to Christmas trees. But a more careful look at the entire passage makes it clear that God is talking about making a carved image—or idol— made from the trunk of a tree. Unless one is worshiping their Christmas tree, there is no logical reason to discontinue this tradition. In fact, Martin Luther was so struck by the beauty of the fir tree that he taught that it represented the everlasting love of God. Believers in Christ should give serious thought as to whether any of their traditions contradict God’s Word or distracts them from it. Paul said, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). There you have it. As long as your holiday customs are not separating you from your walk with Christ, then they are just simply that . . . tradition. Enjoy!

REFLECTION: Is your religious experience based upon family tradition or on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Have you blindly accepted traditions not of your own making without consideration as to whether they are supported in God’s Word?  Have some of your traditions influenced the way you practice your faith? Are there any of your personal or family traditions that might require closer examination?


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