Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Defence of Advent Rituals and Traditions

There is a lot of pressure during the Advent season. For many it anything but an adventurous time; instead it if full of business, unmet expectations, financial stress, and depression. The reaction many people have to such chaos in the face of what should be a meaningful celebration is to shut down, give up and unfortunately miss out.

As with many of our problems in Western Culture, this check-out-of-advent mentality is born from a perceived need to favorably compare ourselves to others. Especially to our na├»ve assumptions that the perfection we see in the limited glimpses of others’ celebrations are indeed accurate depictions. Especially in the age of Facebook one-upmanship.

A give up is the wrong response here. Family traditions and even rituals throughout the year are an important tool that can strengthen familial bonds, beliefs and values like nothing else. They key is to establish valid traditions with immediate meaning that are maintained, not out of traditional obligation nor outside pressure to adopt everything being done, but rather to fulfill the functions that the traditions were created to achieve.

In our particular case, we are huge Christmas elves. Our family traditions are vast and plenty and involve nearly two months of ritual, all done with purpose. When we up and moved our family half way around the world, we brought just a few things—all dear friends: old stuffed animals, guitars, all the books that we couldn’t bear to give away… and a couple trunk-loads of Christmas traditions.

We do not nearly do everything that you see people doing this time of year. We skew away from the silly (expensive attempts to please children’s every wish), the wrong (lying to kids about secondary characters of the season), and the evil (elf on a shelf). Christmas does not have to be busy, chaotic, leading to financial ruin, or all-consuming to be special.

The key to good traditions is to establish simple patterns and practices that have meaning and are repeated. Music, symbols, smells, and activities that start small and build throughout the years are all you need. That, and the wisdom to hold things in check and discontinue things that no longer make sense or have gotten out of hand. Tradition should always serve and not be served.

Educate and create memories that your family will cherish, that is what this season should accomplish.

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