What’s in a tradition?

As I wrote ‘The Christmas Lamp’ I realized that tradition is priceless, whether you have a small family, a large family, or no family.
Tradition doesn’t have to be logical; it only has to emphasize the light of Christ and his everlasting love.

Lori Copeland “The Christmas Lamp”

Last weekend I was blessed to attend the wedding of a friend, a time of friendship, celebration, joy, and importantly tradition.

Traditions are something we often take for granted, or ignore completely, but they play a key role, whether we recognise it or not in connecting us to our past, to those who have gone before us, and to our own identities. Whether it be something as small as the way we greet other people or something as big as the way in which we celebrate important occasions. We all have our own traditions, passed down from our parents, their parents, or the culture in which we grow up.

In the West, many of us have pushed traditions aside as we strive for ‘uncomplicated’ modern lives. Lives in which we have no time for traditions or for the meanings they hold. They are simply ignored or carried out without recognition of what they mean or where they come from. But here, in the Middle East, they are central to life for many people. Whether it is the religious traditions of the current Jewish High Holidays where traditions called forth from the Bible are central to the celebrations and sombre times or something as seemingly simple as offering coffee to all who visit a Palestinian home. Traditions are everywhere you go and, to many people, are central to who they are.

This wedding was no different. Traditions were at the core of every part of the celebrations, from the week of parties and feasts before the wedding to the wedding day itself. From the delicious food served to the symbolic acts of sticking raw yeasted dough adorned with flowers and coins near the door of the newly weds home or smashing a clay oil jar, these traditions are clear and celebrated.

Smashed clay oil jar

These things are not done just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been’, they are done because they mean something to those carrying them out.

It’s not something I’d really thought about until reflecting on the wedding, I too am guilty of not thinking about traditions in this way, taking them for granted. But seeing and being part of these traditions, and hearing the groom speak of his passion for these traditions before the wedding, made me realise the importance of tradition.

It’s something the Church is guilty of too. When did you last stop and think about the traditions you take part in every Sunday? Whether it be, depending on your denomination, the pattern of services, the lighting of candles, purification by incense, or even the clothing worn by clergy. Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians reminds us to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter” ( 2 Thess. 2:15). Of course Paul has an agenda, he is wants to give authority to his words and instructions, but he is relying on those who came before him, he is relying on Jesus.

Traditions are important. They are a direct connection to our past, they are a regular reminder of where we came from and, in many cases, of where we are going. We dismiss them at our peril.

Even if we don’t think about them, we all have our own traditions and each in their own way is important. Just think how your day would be if you didn’t stick to your traditional cup of coffee in the morning!

So at the end of these ramblings, where do we end up? We end with an invitation. An invitation to stop, take a moment, and think about the traditions in your life. Those which you take for granted or those which you cherish. What do they mean? Where do they come from? What would your life be if you didn’t have them? Ask yourself if there are traditions you used to hold dear but have fallen by the wayside. Are they something you would like to restart or refresh? Traditions aren’t static, they change, they develop, they come and go, but they are important, regardless of how small or insignificant they may seem in our busy lives.

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