It’s ironic, in a nation where Christmas Day is celebrated in the middle of Summer when the weather’s usually hot and humid, that the shopping malls and radio stations still play Christmas music a la Currier & Ives—singing about sleighs, snow and sitting by the fire. The Christmas dinner of choice in most households, even in 40-dgree heat (100+ on the old scale) is still a roast turkey and piping hot vegetables. And the ubiquitous Santa Claus suffers through days in stuffy faux-snow castles wearing a long-sleeved fur-lined coat, long pants and boots.
Why is it that, miles away from the northern hemisphere, traditions are carried on through the generations as if one is living in Europe, the U.K. or America?
Apart from the inroads of Americanism into our culture, Australians by-and-large carry in traditions of their ancestors to a fault (even though shrimp and cold meats are slowly usurping prime position on the table (and the turkeys breathe a collective sigh of relief).
Tradition is a powerful motivation. One only needs to visit any family in a growing number of ethnic communities to see that the holiday itself takes on different (or no) meaning, depending on the country of origin.
Christianity, too, has its traditions. And just like traditions differ between Afghans, Chinese and Italian immigrants, so traditions within Christendom vary depending on denomination and, often, nation of origin of that denomination.
Regardless of the origins or the variables evident, traditions—rituals, liturgies, stories, histories—are a grounding force in religion. I believe they are important elements of faith that bring to the table a sense of place, a history. In my opinion, we need history to show us not only where we came from, but also bring perspective into the present and help us in envisioning a trajectory into the future.
Traditions may be rituals such as candle lighting during Advent, special stories read on Christmas Eve, a Christmas Day church service, the pennies baked into plum puddings or great-grandma’s hand-embroidered doilies on the dinner table. They may be the Christmas hymns we sing (a.k.a. carols), the legend of St Nicholas, or the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Traditions are like points on a map that show us where we have been, or like mile markers to show us where we are or how far we have to go.
They give us a sense of belonging.
They ground us in our ever-changing culture.
They give us a sense of stability.
They show us, in symbolic picture, prose or ritual, what is possible.
They give us hope for those who follow, that they too will be able to grasp the meaning and find a way to live in generations to come with purpose and faith.
Traditions may change. Rituals may evolve. But may the myriad of ways they speak into our lives always bring us joy, peace, love and a sense of hope for the future.