By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary
Thanksgiving has been celebrated, and now the Elton family has turned their attention to preparing for Christmas. There is excitement in the air, and there’s no turning back. We have entered the holiday season.
This season is filled with rituals and traditions, and rituals and traditions are crazy things. They have power, yet they also create tension and lose meaning. Our family has adopted an odd mixture of activities, with various origins, to mark this time of year. Some are long-standing, others are more recent; some ground our family, other confine and cause havoc. Yet together this plethora of events and activities, rituals and traditions has come to hold what it means to celebrate Christmas “the Elton way.” And I can’t imagine this season without them.
This year I am seeing “the Elton” holiday traditions in a new way. As our girls become young adults, sharing their life with a larger number of people outside our family, they are playing with our family traditions, grabbing on to some and pushing back on others. Now I know this is a normal part of the maturing process, but I must say, this year it’s been fun to step back and watch the process unfold. I see my daughters want to share the Holidazzle parade with their preschool cousin visiting from California. I see my high school daughter invite her boyfriend to help pack Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I get a text from my college student asking for lefse, a traditional Norwegian Christmas treat, for her Christmas party at school. I sense the tension of our college daughter, home for a limited amount of time, trying to balance time with friends, family and being part of our faith community. And the list goes on. You see, our daughters know holiday traditions are practices which hold our family story and commitments. Some parts of our story they want to share and invite other into, others they’d rather disregard and change. So each year we get to “do jazz” on traditions - continuing some, changing others and letting a few go by the way side.
I like the holiday season, and I’m glad it has meaning for our family. But for me what’s even more important is that my girls are part of a community of faith, with its own story and commitments, which has meaning and purpose in their life. Why? Because these communities will also have their own activities and events, rituals and traditions which will hold their corporate story of faith. Traditions and rituals are assets within faith communities. Yet, traditions must be vibrant, worked with the community present. So, the challenge becomes – are your current traditions helping people discover a Christian way of life or are they confining and limiting the imagination of God’s people?
As your community of faith prepares to celebrate the birth of Jesus, how might you “do jazz” on tradition? Maybe traditions need to tweaked? Perhaps traditions need to be revived or invented. Or maybe it’s time to let some traditions die. It’s time to find out. How might you listen to your teens and young adults and discover what has meaning in their lives and where the tensions are? How might you invite families to offer their voice? And what are our youngest members telling us?
Blessings, as you prepare for celebrating Christ birth “your way” this year!
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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.
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