What are the things that have to be done in order for it to “feel” like Christmas?
The season between Halloweeen and New Year’s gets me thinking heavily about traditions. About the only holiday that prompts me to observe a set of traditions is Christmas. I find that it’s important to me to put up a tree, to hang ornaments, to set out the nativity display my parents brought back from a trip to Africa decades ago. These things are reminders to me to anticipate the day on which we celebrate our Savior’s birth. Other people, of course, have their own traditions.
To be honest, I’ve never really questioned why I find these things so important. They’re just part of what makes Christmas, Christmas. But why do they matter so much to me?
Recently, I read an article by Lisa Diller that discusses how important these little things are to our day-to-day faith: The Vital Importance of Irrelevant Rites. Here’s an excerpt:
I am not going to use this place to defend our Christmas rites. But it strikes me that Christians often feel bound to try to update their celebrations, their traditions, their group-culture, to fit outsiders or to adapt them to the current trends in their societies.
The historian in me wants to make something very clear: Rituals and rites are by definition irrelevant to the current culture. They transcend time within a community. And because Christianity is a translated religion, because it has, since its inception, crossed cultural lines, its basic rituals are always outside the societal mainstream of whatever group the believers inhabit. But even within a culture, rites and rituals are such because they have no specific relevance to the “needs” of the day. They tie us to people and ideas that have gone before. They make us stop what we’re doing and participate with others in something that connects us to the past. […]
The sacred rites that we participate in as the Body of Christ allow us to take part in a holy rhythm that goes back for 2000 years. When we do these things, we enact the shared symbols that our fellow saints have been performing throughout all of Christian time and all around the world. There is no current relevance to these—they are rituals that Jesus asked us to do, that he did with his first disciples and that point us both forward and backward to his Advents. They remind us of the holiness of the time we inhabit. They remind us of who we really are, and whose we really are.
But there isn’t anything practical about them. Therein lies their beauty. They aren’t “efficient,” they aren’t getting things done. They aren’t feeding the poor or spreading the spoken/written Word. They aren’t for outsiders, either. They are for the initiate. And this makes us uncomfortable. We live in a world that expects everything to be immediately transparent. Again, the historian reminds us that “the past is a foreign country.” And in some ways, when we enact these rituals, we are visiting that place.
What about you? What Christmas traditions do you have? How do they connect you to your past—both in terms of your family and in terms of your faith? What traditions that feel most comforting to you and why?