Let me just say it upfront: I love tradition! And let me repeat that: I really love tradition!!
Traditions are, in fact, meaningful repetitions. No doubt, you can think of numerous traditions that you have embraced and enjoyed throughout your own life journey.
Being the “baby” in our family, I was so excited when I was deemed old enough for our whole family to go to Midnight Mass. It started a tradition that would continue for years with home cooked breakfast to follow at 1:30am each Christmas morning. The tradition survived the sudden death of my father the summer prior to my freshman year. It soon evolved into my mom cooking breakfast for a house-full of my high school friends at the same wee-hour of the morn each and every Christmas. Yes, my mom was a saint.
When my son, Ryan, entered the 5th grade we decided it was time to dust-off this by-gone tradition … and bring it back! Thankfully, by then, Midnight Mass was more commonly celebrated at 10:30pm making it more manageable for my young son. We fell in love with this experience together – a tradition that my wife and younger daughters shared little interest in. Over two decades, it would become a meaningful tradition for the two of us – with a guest joining us, every now and then, throughout the years.
The weather added unique dimensions to the tradition as well – with everything from rare “tropical” Chicago breezes, that caught our complaints of being so un-Christmas-like, to the years we drove through falling snow with Christmas carols playing on the radio.
Breakfast was, of course, part of the tradition.
We bagged the home-cooked model and went to Denny’s … the only place that was open. We always checked for options until Denny’s, itself, had become too much a part of the tradition to consider alternatives. Mass was precisely the same every year, but Denny’s was always different. While we walked into Denny’s precisely at midnight, every year, the experience inside always had a new twist. One year, the entire wait-staff walked-out between taking our order and delivering it. Another year, the only cook on duty walked-out. While it slowed down the service, it always added to the uniqueness of that year’s story.
Years into our Christmas tradition, we decided we were going to each chip-in and leave a Christmas card for our waitress, filled with $100 cash, in addition to our tip on the bill. With our card sealed and ready, we finished our breakfast, stood up, threw on our winter jackets, placed the envelope on the table and then quickly departed to remain anonymous. As we drove away, we saw the waitress just outside the front doors of Denny’s waving her arms in a joyous expression of gratitude. It was immediately evident to both of us who had received the real gift that night.
On a November night, a couple years later, I thought I should give Ryan a gracious way out of our tradition thinking, at 29-years-old, that he was hanging-on to it for my sake. His emphatic response, coming without hesitation, surprised me: No Dad, that is what we do on Christmas Eve – we go to “Midnight” Mass and then we go to Denny’s.” Knowing that all traditions should have a season, I was comforted with the thought of maybe one more year. The following summer, Ryan got engaged and our conversation turned to the sweetness of tradition:
And the respect you pay them – by eventually letting them go.
It was then fun to explore what new traditions might await. Traditions bring great meaning and great value to our lives, until we cling to them and confuse them as if they represented some form of Truth. They can help us experience the sweet kiss of Truth yet are never Truth in and of themselves. When we let traditions parade around as Truth in our lives, they pull us into distractive falsehoods eventually pulling us away from Truth. And in doing so, the sweetness sours.
It is much like when our wants, needs, opinions and beliefs – the things that we value — try to masquerade around as our core values. While deeply important, they are poor substitutes for our core. They can easily become the seeds of division – a characteristic that our core does not know.
This year has been a very difficult year on almost every front. It has challenged the essence of most every traditional norm and will continue to do so this Holiday Season and for some time beyond. There is no question that traditions bring great joy and serve a meaningful purpose in our lives.
That is, until they become an attachment sweeter than Truth.
The Truth is that sometimes traditions eventually invite us to a place of sacrifice, emptying, and endings. It is in the richness of this decay that space is made for new traditions to give birth. It may, in fact, be the greatest blessing of 2020. Traditions, sometimes over great expanses of time, come and go. It is in the transition that real Truth is most readily revealed and new traditions can begin. These new traditions, too, will have their ending as future generations grasp to hold-on to what they believe has always been and always would be.
It is in unwrapping our arms from around old traditions that we have our heart and soul most available to embrace a richer Truth. The question becomes: Am I more invested in protecting a revered tradition or seeking a deeper level of this Truth?
As always, I would love for your to share your thoughts and insights below!