Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is it a Tradition or a Rut?

Here we are in the middle of the holiday season; after Thanksgiving and before Christmas. This is a fun time to be out among the masses. People seem quicker with a greeting or kind word. Conversations with strangers are begun with a smile and before I know it we are sharing our holiday plans and traditions. It is fascinating how different the same holiday is celebrated.

Tradition is a common word used when sharing holiday experiences. Young families are encouraged to begin holiday traditions and older adults are steeped in traditions and rituals. As times change and industries evolve rituals also change and evolve. Where once the fireplace, a crackling fire tradition, was in the majority of homes it is replaced by a video, evolved to a DVD, of a roaring fire that will play on your television or computer screen.

While visiting with a friend she shared that she liked to try new things for the holiday meal but had met with opposition from some members of the family. “We don’t usually have that,” was the response. There are those who have gone to great lengths to reproduce specific items. I, myself, have gone the extra mile to keep traditions in place and/or argued when one was missed, replaced or unavailable but when does a tradition become a rut?

A rut is a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising. A tradition that becomes troublesome or uncompromising to the detriment of others can have crossed over to a rut. Are there times when our efforts to continue a tradition have caused others distress or brought conflict to the holiday? Have we, perhaps unknowingly, diminished the celebration of another by our insistence in keeping with tradition?

Traditions are a large part of our celebrations and also a large part of our Christian worship
experiences. Traditions are useful in remembrance and teaching and can provide a strong framework for spiritual growth but these religious traditions, too, can become a rut. Historically denominations have been split and formed over a disagreement in traditions. See the Old-New Side debate as one example.

Justo L. Gonzalez in his The Story of Christianity provides insight on how to escape turning religious tradition into a rut. “One way in which we can avoid this danger is to know the past that colors our vision. A person wearing tinted glasses can avoid the conclusion that the entire world is tinted only by being conscious of the glasses themselves. Likewise, if we are to break free from an undue weight of tradition, we must begin by understanding what that tradition is, how we came to be where we are, and how particular elements in our past color our view of the present. It is then we are free to choose which elements in the past, and in the present, we wish to reject, and which we will affirm.”

At this wonderful time of year when traditions play an important role in our family celebrations and worship be deliberate in the fruits of the spirit and be mindful of Romans 14:20; Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (NIV)


  1. A thought-provoking post! I love the Christmas traditions my family celebrate, but I'm feeling a little restless this year. A new tradition or two would be a wonderful thing to start!

  2. I felt the same way so I let a couple of traditions, that seemed to have run their course, go. Perhaps not so surprisingly some unrecognized pressure went with them.