It is my hubby’s birthday tomorrow. We’ve only one child still at home and she has a full schedule tomorrow, so just Rich and I (pictured above) will celebrate on his birthday day. On Saturday we’ve carved out a block of time with Emily (our seventeen yr old) so a proper cake with candles and gift opening tradition can continue, if only for one more year. Next year, she’ll be at college, just like our oldest is now. Next year there will be no homemade poster made by the kids, there will be no three part harmony birthday song sung, there will be no birthday napkins to buy or special birthday plate to resurrect. No, next year it will be Rich and I…just like the old days…the really, really old days before the arrival of Charlie and Emily.
Letting go of family traditions has never been easy for me. I enjoy the familiarity and predictability of them. Knowing what we do on special days lends a sense of family identity and uniqueness and everyone knows hows to take part as everyone knows what to do and what comes next. Some years we may go through the motions, kind of on autopilot, but I think those ‘motions’ may resonate on levels we don’t readily apprehend. I think we catch a more meaningful understanding of all those “times before” when life slaps us hard, when something comes along and pulls the rug out from underneath us. When disease or trauma or disability bring us to our knees, I think practicing our traditions lends a sense of groundedness in that which undergirds us. It helps us remember what is important (i.e. honoring the gift of another year of life), it adds a sense of continuity when so much seems broken, it reminds us we’re part of something larger that ourselves.
The church has traditions, even anti-tradition churches have traditions. We’re creatures of habit, for habits help us habituate to this planet: they help keep us from sinking into the abyss of humanity’s fallen chaos, they help remind us of what we want to never forget, they create spaces in our lives where we don’t have to make it up as we go. Traditions in the church are helpful, I think, in as much as they bring us to remembrance of our Lord. All Christians practice certain traditions: taking Communion (the Eucharist, if you’re Orthodox or Catholic), celebrating Christmas and Easter, lighting candles, prayer, reading the Bible, worship. We keep the traditions that remind us of our identity and uniqueness in Christ and in the world. We keep the traditions that draw us deeper into communion with God. We keep the traditions that help us let go of sin and embrace Life.
I don’t think we need traditions, and someday we may have to live without them–if that day ever comes, it may be because the tradition has become more important to us than the One it is designed to draw us closer to. If Christmas ever becomes more meaningful to us than the One who was born that holy day, then we may wake up some Christmas morning without a meaning-filled thing to do…the Grinch who stole Christmas will have been right after all.
So, maybe Rich and I start tomorrow with some new birthday traditions. With one child gone and another busy, we’ll have all day to “try and see” what new traditions might fit for future September 25ths. I don’t know…I just hope that whatever surfaces, that it will remind him of how loved and cherished he is to me and to so many. I hope he always remembers that no matter what troubles or trials he enters, that there will always be some who remember and celebrate him and the day he was born, that there will be some who practice a tradition in honor of his life.
Happy Birthday, my love! Here’s to celebrating you!!!