The Weight of Tradition

This week I wrote about why we need to be willing to let our holiday traditions go when they become more of a burden than they’re worth.

I’m not opposed to tradition, and I share some of my favourites in the column. Most of us hold at least a few traditions sacred, because we’re creatures of habit. We like things the same. When I walk into church on Sunday morning, almost everybody sits in the same place every week, us included. There’s no real reason for this; ours isn’t one of those churches where people have little plaques on their pews. We don’t even have pews. But we all gravitate to our comfort zones anyway.

Yet traditions can become ugly, as with the “Zwarte Piet” controversy. This is currently a big struggle in the Netherlands, where many Dutch people are having a hard time letting go of a beloved figure with clearly racist undertones.

If you pause and think about it objectively, adults should be able to give up celebrating Santa’s fictional little helper without too much trauma. But people don’t like to have their world views challenged. Christmas would be no different without Black Pete — but tradition is rarely about honouring the past. It’s usually about our own comfort.

I think this is a decent litmus test: if our holidays are about kindness, generosity, and goodwill, our traditions should reflect those values. If we insist on celebrating in away that’s legitimately hurtful to others, we’re not really living  in the spirit of the season.

Also, if we’re chewing others out because they don’t say “Merry Christmas,” we’re not  spreading glad tidings of great joy, either. I must admit that I sigh every year when I hear my fellow Christians grumble about a War on Christmas and passive-aggressively post reminders that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”

I love Christmas, and I love the spiritual aspect of it most of all, but I’m also aware that about 10 per cent of the traditions we associate with modern-day Christmas actually stem from the birth of Christ as narrated in the Gospels. (Ten per cent might even be generous.) If we really want to bear witness to the Good News Incarnate, we shouldn’t be on the defensive about our patchwork holiday.  Celebrate with open hearts instead.

Whoville Christmas

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