If you grew up in a family that celebrated holiday customs or traditions every year, you may have eaten certain foods, visited the same relative’s home, and/or watched a special movie. Or maybe, if your parents were Christians, you enjoyed an Advent custom meant to focus everyone’s attention on the birth of Christ.
If you grew up in one of these homes, you undoubtedly have fond memories of these special times. Why? Because traditions and customs bond their participants and reinforce the stability of the home; they are something family members can count on year after year. My belief is that traditions are helpful for Christian families to pursue. Here are two ways these holiday customs are so beneficial.
Shadows Point to Future Realities
The best aspects of this world point to an even greater reality. Marriage is wonderful, but no relationship is perfect. Vacations are fun, but they come to an end. Because we live in a fallen and broken world, even the best things don’t completely satisfy us. But someday Christians will have perfect commitment and intimacy with God and other believers as they experience perfect rest in the new heaven and new earth.
In Jesus, Christians find the fulfillment of every good thing. Even now, the church is “married” to Christ. And even now, we can find rest in Jesus. These temporal pleasures are valuable as glimpses, or “shadows,” that point to a greater reality (Heb. 10:1). And when we enjoy them for what they are, we get a taste of the better thing. Likewise, when we reinforce such shadows for our children, we prepare them to better understand the full reality.
God uses these glimpses throughout Scripture, even in ways that could be called “traditions.” He instituted the Passover to help Israel remember when he “passed over” those who trusted him by smearing lamb’s blood on their doorposts (Ex. 12:1-28). And now we know that this also pointed to Jesus, the lamb whose blood spares us (Rev. 5:9). Jesus made this clear when he initiated the Lord’s Supper on the Passover (Matt. 26:26-28).
In some ways, even the Lord’s Supper is but a shadow—we won’t experience the whole reality and value of his broken body and spilled blood until he returns.
Customs Point to Our Future Home
Creating predictable customs at Christmas can help our children anticipate realities that will be perfectly realized in Jesus. It may also prompt the understanding that this is even possible. Someday we will perfectly belong. Someday we will have perfect fellowship with God and others. Someday we will have perfect security with God, our Rock. And though even the best home on this earth is imperfect, someday we will know our true (and perfect) home (Rev. 21:3).
Children who grow up without a solid sense of “home” may require more time or greater input to grasp the concept of a home in God’s family. On the other hand, a child who knows the joys of a godly home can much more easily imagine the joy of an eternal home with God. They have known the shadow. They have tasted the sweetness of your home, even while recognizing its imperfections. How much sweeter will it be for them if God graciously opens their eyes that they can one day enter his family? And between now and then they can say, “I know how much greater it is to be in God’s family, because I see how great it is to be in my own.”
So, give some thought to your holiday customs and traditions this year. Consider what you need to create, maintain, or improve. Perhaps you just need to take your first step, picking a meal to eat on Christmas and a passage to read every bedtime of Advent. Or maybe you’d like to find ways to weave serving or hospitality into this season.
The goal is not to make life more hectic. But to provide holiday customs your family counts on returning to every year; traditions that give them a sense of home. It doesn’t have to be much, but if you start now, your children may someday look back and recognize your family traditions for the gift that they were: glimpses at our future home and future reality.
Questions to Ask
- What Christmas-related customs or traditions do your family already enjoy?
- If that is the case, what is one new custom you would like to add this year?
- If you currently practice no particular holiday customs traditions, what two or three will you introduce this December?
- How will you emphasize to your children (and yourself) what a tradition is and why it’s important?
- And how will you make sure these holiday customs live on for future years?