As a wife and mother, I find joy at home in creating, planning, and anticipating our family traditions. In a Brown family favorite, the lead character Tevye explains how people in his village keep their balance: “with one word…TRADITION.” He then concludes: “without traditions our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof.”
In this musical the people of Anatevka rely on their traditions as a form of legalism and religiosity. This is certainly not what God calls us to, but in His Word, traditions are valued in the commands of annual festivals, weekly rituals, and daily disciplines. Christ’s work on the cross sets us free from the obligation to obey the ceremonial and civil commands of old covenant law (Gal 5:1), yet as new covenant believers we are expected to develop disciplines of heartfelt reflection, thankfulness, rejoicing, and rest (see 2 Tim 2:8; Heb 13:7, 15; Phil 4:4). With the right attitude, adding traditions to your home can be a means of cultivating Christian virtues, which are pleasing to the Lord.
In Deuteronomy 4:9, God instructs the people of Israel to “take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” God wants His people to care for their souls by remembering what He has done in their lives, and to make His works known to future generations. The intentional use of traditions in your home can be a means of incorporating these commands into your life.
Some traditions occur everyday as intentional habits. Daily traditions can be how we “take care and keep our souls diligently” by keeping our hearts and eyes fixed on Christ. Prioritizing time in the Word and prayer each day is a kind of tradition which helps nurture our walk with the Lord. In our home, for example, we pray before meals, and Derek reads a few verses out of the Proverb for the day during breakfast. At bedtime we read a Bible story, ask the kids to name one thing from their day for which they are thankful, and then close with prayer and a worship song. These daily traditions prioritize the Word in our home and stimulate discussions about biblical truths. They keep the Lord and His Word running as a thread through our daily activities.
Traditions that Teach
Traditions can be significant because they teach. Special days and seasons provide an easy way to add some biblical teaching into the lives of your children. Every Sunday is a special day because we have the privilege to spend it with our church family hearing the Word, praising our great God, and encouraging fellow believers. Christmas and Easter provide rich opportunities for us to teach our children through traditions we set. During advent season we do daily readings to teach them about the true meaning of Christmas. On Christmas morning we read aloud from Luke 2. During Passion Week, we have a banner displayed in our home with biblical Easter symbols and daily readings to walk our kids through the final days of Christ’s earthly life. During the month of November with Thanksgiving approaching we add a daily leaf to our thankful tree to pause and cultivate the virtue of thankfulness in our home.
Traditions for the Sake of Remembrance
Traditions can also be used for reflecting back in celebration of God’s blessings in our life. By pausing on special days to reflect on the Lord’s faithfulness and goodness we seek to not “forget what our eyes have seen…lest they depart from our heart all the days of our life.” In our home we make a big deal of birthdays because we are each other’s biggest earthly blessings! We celebrate with parties and birthday surprise cake and on the kids’ half birthdays they enjoy a special one-on-one outing with their daddy.
Because our children are internationally adopted, we choose to celebrate Ethiopian and Chinese holidays with traditional clothing, and cultural traditions to think upon our kids’ birthplaces. And we pause with thankfulness on the days we first met our children by “surprising” them with donuts in bed and reading aloud their personalized adoption storybook.
Every year on our anniversary, Derek and I enjoy a date night out with time to reflect upon another year of marriage God has given to us. Throughout the year we keep a faithfulness jar where we write on slips of paper the small and big ways the Lord has shown Himself to be faithful. On New Year’s Eve we read through the jar to recall what God has done and look forward to a new year with hope. A practical tradition of living out Deuteronomy 4:9 in our home!
Traditions for Fun
But, traditions can be for pure fun, too! They add joy to life! We regularly eat “picnic” dinners on the family room floor, usually of pizza or nachos while watching a show together. We often go on family hikes. Every year on Fat Tuesday we eat pancakes for dinner and on Thanksgiving morning we make pumpkin donuts for breakfast. On Valentine’s Day, the kids awake to a “heart attack” where we have written reasons why we love them on paper cutout hearts stuck to their bedroom door. St. Patrick’s Day is the wearing of the green and eating Irish food.
Halloween brings a pumpkin patch, jack-o-lantern carving and trick-or-treating. The day after Thanksgiving we go into the mountains to cut down a tree and the next morning begins “Deck the Halls Day” of Christmas music and putting up decorations in our home. God gave us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17), and when we enjoy them with a heart that acknowledges Him as the good Giver, He is glorified.
Traditions and the Word of God
Of course, it is vital to keep in mind that none of these traditions should be equated with the Word of God (see Matt 15:1-9). These are practices we have chosen to incorporate into our home for the sake of joy and practical obedience to biblical commands. They are, therefore, presented as ideas to help spark your own thinking on the subject, nothing more. Traditions can be a useful and Christ-exalting facet of the Christian home, but only insofar that they are practiced in submission to God’s Word and never used as a gauge of spirituality between families.
As you think about your own family, you will develop traditions that align best with your situation, and your traditions may or may not look like the traditions of other homes. That’s fine. Let us be careful to not look down on each other for the traditions that we practice or don’t practice (see Rom 14:1-12). Of greatest importance is our obedience to God’s Word, not how we celebrate birthdays.
Intentional Traditions for the Glory of God
Unlike Tevye, who lived out his traditions because it was how things were always done without understanding of the reason, we as believers seek to establish traditions to weave God’s presence and Word into our everyday lives as a means of keeping our souls diligently. How much richer our lives can be when we cultivate traditions of reflecting upon God’s blessings in our life! What joy it can add to our home when we practice traditions intended to glorify Him!