A little earlier than in most years the man who delivers early in the morning my newspaper rang our doorbell to give us his card with season greetings. It is long standing tradition to reward this person at Christmas time with a few Euros to express one’s appreciation for his faithful early morning service.
And then there is another important tradition in our home this week. On the twenty-second of December my wife and I go out for dinner to celebrate our wedding anniversary. (This year is the 54th anniversary.)
And I expect that this year the tradition will continue of building the temporary ice skating ring on one of the main squares in our town, and also of the presence of the “oliebollenkraam” (stall for deep-fried raisin buns) nearby.
Traditions are important in our lives, certainly around Christmas time. In most homes (including ours) the Christmas tree has been put up and a large percentage of the people (even of those who are not regular church attenders) plan to go to one of more Christmas services.
Seventh-day Adventists have often had an uneasy relationship with traditions—especially with those that relate to church and religion. But, whether or not we realize it, Adventists also have accepted many traditions. There is absolutely no biblical rule that the Lord’s Supper must be celebrated once in a quarter—it is a tradition that we have simply borrowed from our Methodist brothers and sisters. Many Adventist churches stick to a long-held tradition that the unused communion bread is to be burnt. Our annual week of prayer is characterized by a number of traditions that are very hard to change, as is our traditional order of the weekly worship service. Many other examples of Adventist traditions could be mentioned.
For a long time many Adventist churches in Europe did not want to have special Christmas services, let alone have a Christmas tree. Christmas, it was argued, was a tradition with a pagan origin and, therefore, had no place in a church that based its beliefs and practices on the Bible, rather than man-made traditions.
Life would, however, be extremely impoverished if we tried to do away with all traditions. We need family traditions. We need local traditions in the place where we live, as well as regional and national traditions. And we need traditions in our church. Local churches often have meaningful traditions that give that particular congregation its special character. And there is nothing wrong with having special world-wide Adventist traditions, as long as they do not kill every attempt at needed renewal.
Should we worry about where our traditions come from? Whether they have perhaps pagan or Roman Catholic or Calvinist roots? I do not think so. Traditions may have a long and often unclear history. Admittedly, some traditions may not helpful, and many traditions may change over time. I know of a few traditions in our church that we could well do without! But what counts is whether traditions continue to be meaningful. Not their origin but the present content and meaning is important.
I enjoy the Christmas season and many of its traditions. (In the Netherlands most of the gift-giving has already taken place at St Nicolas on December 5—another old tradition!). Christmas remains special. I enjoy the carols and the Christmas lights in the streets and in buildingd and the over-all Christmas atmosphere. As a minister I enjoy preparing a Christmas sermon and participating in Christmas services. And, in spite of the way in which the Christmas season is often over-commercialized, it is good to see how it remains an annual occasion when special attention is given to the coming of our Lord to this world.
I wish all readers of my blog a joyful and blessed Christmas.