How holiday family traditions help teach our children

“Yes!” We high-fived each other as we surprised our children with another annual night out in the “Minivan Express.” For many years, we’ve laid a “golden ticket” on our kids’ pillows to find as they climbed into bed. Much like The Polar Express movie, we have a tradition of punching their ticket, piling in the car in our pajamas, sipping some hot cocoa, and driving around to see Christmas lights after bedtime. As our children have grown older, it has become much harder to surprise them, but we have managed to get creative and find a new way each year.

The value of traditions

Traditions can be simply light-hearted and fun, like our Polar Express shenanigans, but most traditions have a meaningful purpose behind them as they require thoughtfulness, planning, and repetition. Through traditions, we pass on our greatest treasures. We pass on family heirlooms or family recipes to be enjoyed and valued by the next generation. And if we treasure Christ, we will establish traditions that will instill biblical truths in our families through thoughtful planning and practice.

In Treasuring God in our Traditions, Noel Piper categorizes traditions into two kinds: everyday and especially.[1] Christmas traditions are traditions that are centered “especially” around celebrating the birth of Christ. Piper writes, “When a level of significance is added to the ordinary repetitions of life, a tradition is created.” As Christians, we should strive to make our Christmas celebrations significant and purposeful. The world around us makes it easy to forget, to become lazy, or to allow Christmas be an oasis of nothing. And much like the Israelites, we are a forgetful people..

In the Old Testament, one of the ways the Lord “catechized,” or instructed, his ancient people in his ways was by commanding the annual celebration of feasts, like the Passover, which functioned as yearly reminders of the mighty works of the God.

“And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exo. 12:26-27)

Answering the ‘why’ questions

As we seek to catechize our own children with the wonderful works of God in Christ, we need to have a response ready when they ask, “Why do we do this?” We can help them see how both the silly and the sacred traditions point to Christ and remind us of what he has done and what he will do.

Piper writes: “If we want our children to know him, it’s not enough just to be ‘doing’ the right activities or using the symbolism of God’s Word and work. We must remember to be ‘talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise’ (Deuteronomy 11:19).”[2] It is easy for our traditions to become unfocused or insignificant, so we should strive to make them thoughtful and purposeful.

Our traditions

Over the years, we have established several Christmas traditions that we treasure as a family. Some are fun. Some are meaningful. Others are practical and allow us to have time together as a family. Some were passed on to us, and some are shared with our church family. I want to share a few with you in the hopes that it will encourage you to create some of your own.

Even when times are hard, circumstances are difficult, or we find ourselves in the midst of change, traditions can serve as an anchor and constant reminder of what is most significant and important. We may feel like it is not worth it, or we may feel like hypocrites if our hearts aren’t aligned. We may even feel like we are just going through the motions, but it is often better to keep thoughtful, meaningful traditions “somehow rather than not at all.”[3] Through our wavering seasons, unfaithful hearts, and half-done traditions, we recognize and experience the faithfulness of our God (Jos. 1:5).

Noel Piper said it best, “But how much more of God there is to find when we are on the lookout, when we shape our ‘everyday’ and our ‘especially’ around him. God will show himself in special and new ways when we celebrate him. He will use our celebrations, our traditions, to stoke our heart’s fire for him.”[4]