Usually by this time in December, I’ve already watched the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Every year, I want to see George Bailey get rescued by the clumsy angel, Clarence. I want to hear all the quotable lines and sing along to “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” I want my heart to get all mushy and my eyes all teary when ZuZu says, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
It’s tradition. And I do love a good tradition.
In the movie, Ever After, at the beginning, as her father is about to leave on a trip, Cinderella looks at her step mother and says, “It’s tradition: He always waves at the gate.” She runs to the window, and sees her father wave his hand to her, as he had done so many times in the past.
Traditions are reliable. They give us something to look forward to, to plan for, to anticipate. Traditions bind us together. The picking out of a Christmas tree. The baking of sugar cookies. The Christmas cards sent to long-lost friends. The lighting of a menorah. The planned travel to see family. These are all beautiful aspects of the holiday season. These activities provide us opportunities for gratitude and community.
Yet, traditions can also trap us. The practice can morph into a ritual. The ritual can turn into a monster. Suddenly, we are stressed about the annual cookie baking because of the mess it makes, the cost incurred, and inevitable pounds it adds to our waistlines. If we try to pile on tradition upon tradition, or ritual upon ritual, or activity upon activity, we will find ourselves fizzling out. We glance up one day. Powdered sugar falling around our kitchens…mistletoe hanging lopsided from our doorways….tinsel exploding off the tree…the calendar overloaded with full dates of parties and outings…. And we will wish the season was over. We will long for the dreary days of January. We will want to bury ourselves in a huge bowl of rum-infused eggnog and wonder why we ever thought building gingerbread houses with a bunch of crazy kids and uninterested adults would be “fun.”
Every year, I commit to slowing down. I want to savor this time of year. I want to play in the snow, sit cozy by a fire, and spend time with friends. Yet, every year, I am a slave to an over-loaded event schedule. Every year, I am snared by the holiday baking displays and embark on a frenzy of cookie preparation. Every year, I am swept up in the gifts, the movies, the sights, the sounds, the outings, the people, and the madness.
And every year, I wonder if my heart is at peace. I wonder if I’m missing the point. I wonder if the traditions are trumping the joy.
That’s when I notice the manger. Christ came into chaos. He brought peace. He came to buck a few traditions and institute a few of His own. He came in love. He brought grace. Grace flooded into the chaos. Peace overarched the madness. Love echoed from heaven to earth.
Love says it’s okay to let some old things go, and let new things in. Love lets us ease up on the pressure. Love lets us breathe. Love allows us to sit down and relax and be present with those most dear to us.
Traditions aren’t the point. Love is.
I think I’ll skip watching It’s a Wonderful Life this year. The movie will be there next year, I’m sure. Meanwhile, you’ll find me creating new traditions with my son. Like falling asleep in front of the lighted Christmas tree while Josh Groban sings, “The First Noel”. Or cutting out Christmas cookies from a new recipe. Or just cuddling up on the couch and watching “Dinosaur Train” (which isn’t even Christmas-y!)
As long as my house is filled with love and peace this season, I’ll consider my holiday traditions fulfilled.
Whatever traditions fill your schedule this year, may grace and peace be with you, my friends, and may love be the center of your home.
P.S. “No man is a failure who has friends.”
(That’s from It’s a Wonderful Life. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, you should make it a tradition to watch it every year…)