We are heading into a season of great opportunity.
For some families, Thanksgiving and Christmas help define who they are. For others, these holidays are little more than eating and an expense.
Where do family traditions fit in? Traditions might just be the most important part of this holiday season.
In fact, Tevye, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” kept singing that traditions were the sign posts that kept a family going in difficult times.
Where did our traditions go?
For some reason, many homes left the traditions at grandma’s house.
Traditions are the repetitive activities that can help children feel as if they are a part of a family that is special. In our very time-conscious society, the only traditions many families observe is eating turkey on a Thursday in November and buying too many gifts in December.
Each of those activities are completed in a couple hours, and they add nothing to our lives except inches to our waste lines and balances to our credit cards. Certainly something more is needed.
No one will take the time to bring back family traditions unless they can see the value, so let me share a few with you. The first value added by family traditions is family unity. The children are made to feel as if they are part of something special if they can anticipate unique, predictable events at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Take Thanksgiving for instance. When children participate in yearly traditions that only their family does, it helps them feel like they are part of something special.
If their Thanksgiving is exactly the same as every other family’s eating feast, why come home for the holidays? It’s an opportunity to allow them to focus on the unique, and sometimes ethnic, individuality of their particular home.
The child will love it and the teen might baulk, but eventually the traditions will help them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
Today’s child is wondering if their family is going to stay together. Far too frequently they are watching their friend’s homes break up. Traditions won’t save a marriage, but they will comfort the child and make him feel as if his family is unique.
Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to eat special foods that might seem strange to other children but comfortably predictable to the child who has grown up with mom’s traditional string bean casserole.
The child might never say, “I appreciate the fact that you always make this casserole,” but wait until the year mom doesn’t make it.
“Hey Mom, where’s the casserole?” will be the first thing he’ll ask.
They come to expect the comfort of predictability.
Particular kinds of food are a major part of family traditions, but that’s just the beginning. This is also an opportunity to reunite with extended family. Yes, everyone has family members who are different – and we would prefer not invite some of them.
(I know because I seem to get invited less and less each year.)
But they are still family, and there are lessons to be taught by odd people like obnoxious Uncle Bob.
Thanksgiving ushers in the traditional lesson that a child has people who care for them, people who extend beyond his or her immediate family.
The most instructive tradition, however, is to create and maintain a tradition of purpose. What is the purpose of Thanksgiving? For that we have to go back to the root of this holiday, the first Thanksgiving.
I’m not sure schools are teaching the children that the first Thanksgiving was held during a time of crisis – a much bigger crisis than what we are currently experiencing with our economy.
A harsh winter and a shortage of food left the pilgrims obviously dependent upon God for their rescue. Sure enough, God, as He always does, rescued the pilgrims through the assistance of their neighbors, the Native Americans of that region.
The first Thanksgiving was started just as its name implies, as a tradition of giving thanks to God for abundantly meeting their needs.
Right now many American children are experiencing fear, even if they don’t express it. The whole nation is fearfully and continually focused on the difficult economy. A child would have to be in a bubble to miss the way people are talking about our future. A revival of the tradition of true thanksgiving has never been more needed in this generation.
The Barnes family tradition
In our house we start Thanksgiving week each year by taping a large sheet of poster board to the refrigerator with a pen close at hand. Each family member and visitor is expected to write things on the poster board that he or she is grateful for – things God has done in his or her life.
We personalize it by putting our initials next to what we write. This tradition of writing usually needs to start with the dad so the children, especially the teenagers, think it’s cool to add to the list.
On Thanksgiving Day, the poster board is read at the table. The purpose of this tradition is obvious. We want to create both an attitude of gratefulness to God and a confidence in God.
The most meaningful Thanksgiving tradition is to bring this holiday back to its original intent. The tradition of thanking God for His blessings gives children a confidence beyond their family’s limitations. It also offers another opportunity to remind the children what your family stands for.
The tradition ought to be so much more than turkey. It’s about confidence in the power of God to supply all our needs. It’s a tradition today’s child is desperate for.
Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.