Do Your Traditions Affirm or Distract?

Have you ever practiced a tradition without knowing why or how it started? Does it matter?

One friend celebrates half-birthdays in her family. Another organizes an egg hunt every Easter for the children in her family. Still another friend serves pizza for dinner every Friday night.

The Christmas season overflows with traditions. Every year we sing the same carols. We attend a candlelight service on Christmas eve. Perhaps you open presents Christmas morning. Or maybe your family opens presents the night before. Is Christmas eve dinner traditionally a fish dinner at your house? Maybe your family would be horrified if you didn’t make the traditional Christmas ham or your grandmother’s apple pie recipe.

But does it matter?



Yesterday, I repeated a tradition I’ve been practicing with friends for several decades. A family of 3 children spent the afternoon decorating home-baked gingerbread houses. The first time I did this, 30 years ago, was with a family of 4 children. Those kids are grown with children of their own. Last year, we started the tradition with a new family.

As I think about the place traditions have in my life, I wonder how many annual Christmas traditions begin with spontaneous joy, only to transform into obligatory chores with each passing year. Does the thought of putting up the tree—again—leave you with dread? Is there a mound of presents in your bedroom that still need wrapping?

Churches have split and new denominations formed because of disagreement over traditions. Families have divided because individuals hold so tightly to traditions that they’re willing to sacrifice relationships. Marriages have ended because spouses place a higher priority on the traditions of their birth family than on beginning fresh traditions in their new family.

As we celebrate the birth of the Son of God who came to save us from our sin, will you take a fresh look at how you celebrate Christmas? Why do you attend a candlelight service? Or exchange presents? Why put up a Christmas tree?

Explain the reasons behind our Christmas traditions to your children and grandchildren. Help them appreciate, not just the how, but the why. Examine your own traditions. Maybe it’s time to change things a bit. Eliminate one or two that have lost their meaning, and replace them with traditions that affirm the “reason for the season.”

This is the season of joy. Joy to the world for the Savior is born. Joy for the relief that our sins have been paid for in full and our relationship with the Father has been restored. And overflowing joy for those who don’t just celebrate the birth of Jesus, they know Him intimately as Savior and Lord.


As for me, I’ll continue to bake gingerbread houses and have children we love decorate them. Why? For the joy on their faces—and on mine!—and their giggles as they create works of art. For the twinkle in their eyes and the icing stains on their fingers as they craft edible works of art. Most of all, for the joyful memories we’re creating—memories that may last another 30 years or longer. Joy they will long-associate with building houses—and lives—on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

What traditions do you treasure that affirm the meaning of Christmas?       

Too Early for Christmas Joy ?

I’ve heard the complaints.

November is for Thanksgiving. December is for Christmas.

Eat the turkey before you set up the tree.

And I’ve seen the memes on social media.

Two shoppers: “The mall’s all decorated for Christmas. You know what that means.” “Thanksgiving is coming.”

Turkey to Santa: “Wait your turn, Fat Boy!”

Fairy Godmother to Cinderella: “And when the clock strikes midnight, Halloween will end. Then BAM! Christmas carols everywhere.”

But as a wise person once said:

“The calendar says Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. But in the life of a Christian, Christmas always comes before Thanksgiving!”

Joy means different things to different people. For some, joy is fleeting—dependent on changeable circumstances…or the calendar.

For the Christian, joy is rooted in a relationship with the three-in-one God who created the universe. The One who never changes. It’s a response to:

The Father…who is our joy and delight (Psalm 43:4).

The Son…who tells us to remain in Him so that His joy remains in us (John 15:11).

The Holy Spirit…whose fruit is joy (Galatians 5:22).

When we understand the grace of God, we live minute by minute in the awareness that through His Son, Jesus, God redeemed us out of the slave market of sin. He reached down to pull us out of the mire of a life enslaved to our own sinful nature. He freed us from the futility of trying harder even as we continually fail to attain the holiness He requires.

The past 11 months have been a reminder of this truth for me and my hubby. It started with a diagnosis that often results in death. After months of treatment, we received a declaration that he is cancer-free. And finally, a prognosis recommending caution for the next several years.

Some might say it’s too early to be joyful. After all, we have several years of scans in front of us to watch for the cancer’s possible reappearance. But that’s like saying Christmas joy should be relegated to a particular month or season.

Christmas joy

Joy—Christian joy—rejoices in the present moment as we swim in the ocean of God’s grace.

It remembers that all we have has been given to us by a Father who delights in the children redeemed by His Son—the One whose birth we celebrate every Dec. 25th.

True joy trusts that even though circumstances may appear unhappy, we have a heavenly Father who is always at work for our ultimate good.

If we truly understood the grace of God, we would never relegate Christmas joy to a single month. So yes, the calendar may say it’s still November, but to quote the apostle Paul from Philippians 4:4 (NIV):

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

So, today, I will rejoice by putting up my Christmas tree. It will join the nativity scene set up a few weeks ago.

And while I’m doing that, I’ll be wishing you a joyful Thanksgiving!


Epic Fail

Last week I posted an update on my one word for 2016: joy.

This week, in the interest of complete transparency, I’m posting an epic fail on the same subject.

No Joy

It happened during a recent trip to Cincinnati to attend a conference, trade show, and board meeting.

I left home at 4:30 AM for my first flight. The travel arrangements included a connecting flight in Philadelphia. And that’s where it all began to go so horribly wrong.

Boarding the flight in Philadelphia occurred without incident with an expected departure of 11:05 AM.  At 10:55, the flight attendant announced the flight was cancelled and we all needed to exit the aircraft.

You can probably imagine the reactions. My first response was annoyance. My board meeting was scheduled for 3 PM that afternoon. A cancelled flight meant a missed meeting.

I reminded myself that joy is my word for 2016 and I had committed to being intentional about choosing joy. We were safe, even if we were delayed. And if this were not a safety issue, it was still an opportunity to exercise my joy muscles.

But the opportunities to practice a joyful attitude kept on coming…

After much wrangling, I obtained a reservation on another flight scheduled to leave two hours later. Two hours turned into 3 hours…then 4 hours…then 5 hours later.

Still, I reminded myself once again to be joyful. At least I had a seat on a flight the same day. Some of my fellow passengers were not as fortunate. They were delayed until the following morning.

We finally arrived at the gate in Cincinnati 14 hours after I left the house that morning. Wait—actually, that’s not quite correct. The plane taxied toward the gate, but stopped 200 feet away from the ramp. It was raining and lightning had been spotted in the area. As a safety precaution, ramp personnel could not be released until the possibility of lightning left the area.

We waited an additional 20 minutes, even though a ramp crew could be seen 3 gates over, unloading luggage from another airline’s plane.

Yet an additional opportunity to be joyful. After all, joy is not dependent on circumstances. At least, that’s what I told myself. I will choose joy despite the situation.

Sigh. It didn’t work. I did not feel joyful as we finally deplaned. Nor did I feel joyful when I checked into the hotel 16 hours after I left home that morning.

Bottom line, my commitment to be joyful resulted in an epic fail that day.

It’s apparent I’m a slow learner. I have a feeling there will be more opportunities coming for me to practice joy despite my circumstances! 😉

How are you doing with your “one word” for 2016? Leave a comment with your update!

One Word Update: Joy

I recently attended a high school graduation ceremony of a friend’s son. In his commencement address, the pastor told the following joke:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson decide to go on a camping trip. After dinner and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night, and went to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his friend.

“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied, “I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?”

Watson pondered for a minute, sure Holmes was once again testing him.

“Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.”
“Astrologically, I observe Saturn is in Leo.”
“Horologically, I deduce the time is approximately a quarter past three.”
“Theologically, I can see God is all powerful and we are small and insignificant.”
“Meteorologically, I suspect we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”

“What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes was silent for a moment, then spoke. “Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent!”

The pastor pointed out that in Watson’s attempt to impress Holmes, he missed what was right in front of him. Then he exhorted the graduates to be careful they don’t make the same mistake.

I thought about his exhortation as I considered the past six months and the impact of my one word for 2016: joy. I blogged about the reasons for my choice earlier this year.


What difference has this word made? The most important difference is that I’ve been more intentional about noticing what’s right in front of me.




My husband of 38 years.



The privilege of teaching and writing.

The quiet voice of the Holy Spirit.

The Word of God.

Focusing on joy has helped me slow down and smell the coffee. Well maybe not slow down as much as I’d like, but definitely stopping to smell the coffee more often!

Looking forward to seeing what the next six months bring!

Did you choose One Word for 2016? Share your word…and your progress in the comments!

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