The Consequences of Traditions Becoming More Important Than People

Ryan Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Monday, December 5, 2022
The Consequences of Traditions Becoming More Important Than People

The Consequences of Traditions Becoming More Important Than People


Note: Thank you to Dr. Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Editor for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for Denison Forum.

One of my favorite parts about the Christmas season is the diverse ways in which people celebrate it. Sure, there are probably some time-tested standards that apply to most of us—putting up decorations, church on Christmas Eve, maybe a party or two—but Christmas is also the season when people tend to get a little creative with their family traditions.

In a recent article from The Atlantic, writers asked readers to send in some of their favorite family traditions for the holiday season. While the responses vary from the patently absurd to the heartwarming and inspiring, they clearly hold a special place in the lives of those who carry them out each year.

For example, LaRae LaBouff writes about how her family would routinely have fifteen to thirty people gather at their grandparents’ house each year to celebrate Christmas. As a result, once the gifts were unwrapped, the floor was littered with wrapping paper, ribbons, and other vestiges of the festivities.

They would place all the trash in a large can and then her grandfather would climb in and push everything down so that it would fit. The kids would then cover him with ribbons and bows. The tradition was known as “Throwing Pop Away” and became a key part of their Christmas experience.

As LaRae’s grandfather got older and began to suffer from cancer, however, he could no longer make it into the trashcan. Rather than give up the tradition, they began filling a smaller cardboard box so that he could still stand inside and be covered up.

She writes that in the years since his passing, other family members have stepped up to take his place and be wrapped in remembrance of their departed patriarch.

But while not everyone’s traditions are as tender and sweet as LaRae’s, they can still bring joy to those who keep them.

A Grinchy breakfast and a science experiment gone wrong

Nate Ransil writes about how he married into the family tradition of starting Christmas day off with the most absurd breakfast they can create. The tradition originated when his wife’s grandfather decided one year that there was just too much good on Christmas, so there needed to be at least one thing the kids wouldn’t look forward to. To that end, he decided to take their traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and orange juice, stick it in a blender, and serve it as breakfast smoothies.

While the idea began as a joke, Nate’s father-in-law thought it was funny and created a challenge whereby certain family members would be responsible for creating the themed Christmas menu each year.

One year they chose The Grinch, crafting a breakfast of Who pudding, rare Who roast beast, toadstool sandwiches, and bananas with a greasy black peel. Another year, the meal was inspired by Elf and featured spaghetti, crumbled Pop-Tarts, and maple syrup. He writes that last year his son and brother-in-law decided to create a science lab with frog legs, lychee fruit “eyeballs” floating in a jar, brains made of Jell-O, and bowls of worms.

While I doubt I’ll be replicating this particular tradition anytime soon, Ransil described how it always leads to a lot of laughter and the knowledge that “nobody else in the world is eating the same thing we are right now.”

When traditions become more important than people

I highlighted these examples because they offer us a good reminder that our Christmas traditions do not need to come from someplace of profound spiritual meaning in order to be meaningful to you and your family. Rather, it’s the sense of joy, unity, and remembrance they inspire that is most important. They have purpose to the extent that they bring us closer to those we love most.

However, if we’re not careful it can be easy for the tradition to become more important than the people who keep it.

In many ways, that was the primary problem Jesus encountered with the religious leaders throughout his ministry. Most of the scribes and Pharisees were well intentioned, spiritually driven individuals who just wanted to help people know God better. The problem was that they had fallen into the trap of thinking that the best way to accomplish that purpose was by adhering so strictly to their religious traditions that they left little room for the Lord to work.

Over time, they robbed God’s people of the joy they should have found in a relationship with him by insisting on a relationship with the law instead. Their traditions became more important than the people they were meant to help.

But, before we judge them too harshly, let us remember that we are far from immune to making the same error today. And there are few times of the year when that mistake can be easier to make than during the Christmas season.

Blessing God by blessing those he came to save

Take a moment to think back on some of your most cherished traditions. Do you know why they were started? Do they still fulfill the same purpose today? In what ways have they evolved over the years to make room for new family and friends to take part? And is there anything the Lord might want to change to help them better accomplish that purpose this year?

The best traditions are those that bring people together and add depth to our relationship with others. And whether they are silly, sacred, or somewhere in between, it’s worth taking the time to make sure that they are still a means to that end rather than the end itself.

So as we draw steadily closer to Christmas Day, let’s endeavor to make sure that every facet of our celebrations and traditions bless God by blessing the people he came to save.

Will yours?

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Publication date: December 5, 2022

Photo courtesy: Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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