Forging a family tradition takes time and effort. . .May my faltering experiences with this bring you hope and encouragement in this season.
"Joy to the world, the Lord is come..." As the disbelieving eyeballs of customers and tellers at our local bank peered at us in astonishment, my children and I continued to quietly carol as unobtrusively as possible in that most unusual setting. Why were we caroling in a bank? Because friends who worked there knew that we enjoyed Christmas caroling and that we were used to performing for strangers—we were headed for our local Mexican restaurant to carol next! How did Christmas caroling in oddball places become a family tradition? The answer took twenty years, with many fits and starts, to get us to that moment.
It all started when I visited a friend’s class in college. The professor said, "Tradition and ritual are the glue that holds families together. They give a strong sense of belonging and continuity, which is absolutely vital, especially in today's culture. . ." Coming from a broken family, I really wanted that kind of glue! It was determined right then: whenever I married and had kids, we would come up with family traditions and rituals to give us this sense of belonging and community. The problem I didn’t understand was that instituting a tradition—for the sake of tradition—could easily become a mere external effort with little meaning. . . Only when the traditions come out of your heritage, or from the things that give your unique family joy, can that amazing sense of family continuity and strength develop. And it will take time to find them.
I learned this the hard way. I kept trying the traditions others raved about, growing weary and grumpy as nothing seemed to stick. My children watched me with puzzled faces as I kept growling instead of grinning my way through all these attempts.
I had forgotten the reason we were doing this.
The point wasn't to hear exclamations from friends about how incredible our traditions were or have magazine-worthy photo shoots! The point was to simply give our children and ourselves a special sense of belonging, an ongoing sense of being the "Waring family," a delight in the distinctives which make our memories. I slowly discovered that the external traditions and rituals are valuable only as they come from the heart of the family.
Somehow, the tradition of caroling began to rise to prominence for our music-loving, concert-giving family of singers. It was such fun to see the delight on friends' faces when they opened the door to our homemade music. There was a camaraderie with one another as we raced from house to house to give our special "Waring" gift to people all over town. And, there was the continuity of caroling year after year, since it didn't take much time and required no monetary funding, just a warmed-up voice and a stout scarf and hat. . .and gloves. . .and boots. . .and parka!
I realized how important this tradition had become when my college kids began to ask over the phone, "When will we be going caroling?" and to express, "I can't WAIT to go caroling!" This was the one tradition that stuck. It was the one Waring tradition that brought all of us joy and satisfaction.
So that is how, several years ago, we came to carol in a bank. . .and a Mexican restaurant. . .and a music store. . .and all over town.
May you discover this season some repeatable expression that can give YOUR unique family a special tradition that brings joy to you all!