The Power of Collective Tradition
The Tranquility in Traditions
“It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.”
~ Henry James
There is something calming about traditions. Despite the chaos of December, each year on December 24th at exactly 6pm, a sense of peace comes over me as the characters in the living creche assemble at the front of our church. In succession, the lights are dimmed and the candles glow. The members of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, people of all ages, are squeezed into wooden pews, children are restless, and all eagerly anticipate the telling of the Christmas Story – a story that occurred over 2,000 years ago, but is just as important today. Reverend Lombard steps up to the altar and begins each year with the same words of caution. “Our time to wait is over. Christmas Eve is here. Our days of preparation are completed. What has not been done will now have to be left undone.” He is right, because at this point, anything that has not been purchased, made or wrapped, will have to wait until after Christmas. While that might seem stressful, it brings calm over everyone, including me. Nothing can be done now, and so we allow ourselves to sit back and relax. As the Christmas Story is told, the fourth and fifth graders act it out. There are shepherds watching flocks by night, messages from angels, a couple looking for a place to sleep, three kings, and of course a baby. Word for word, the story is always exactly the same. Occasionally, there is excitement like when a program caught on fire, or when the boy playing Jesus threw up in the creche. But, those moments aside, the ritual of listening in silence, the ability to anticipate every word, brings calm and peace. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when dressing up for Christmas Eve service is at the bottom of my list, but when I settle into my seat, I am reminded that Christmas is more than presents – it is traditions passed down through generations. There are traditions that are built around things, like gifts and food, but the traditions that are built around ideas and stories, are the most powerful.