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Richard Larsen: Our Traditions are Worth Preserving

December 22nd, 2009 by Halli


By Richard Larsen

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change. While there is undoubtedly much truth in that, some change is desirable, and some is not. Change in relation to the traditions of our forebears should not be taken lightly, as it seems to me they not only define who we are as a people and a culture, but they provide substance and meaning to our lives associated with something bigger than “me,” and they provide evidence of what we value. There’s also a certain degree of “connectedness” with previous generations precipitated by holding onto multi-generational traditions.

It’s impossible for me to separate myself from those familial traditions at Christmastime. The singing of Christmas carols around the family piano while my mother played, with a perpetual smile gracing her face as she relished the moment. The group treks through the snow to friends and neighbors, delivering homemade fudge, divinity, pecan rolls, hand-dipped chocolates, and a loaf of hand-kneaded bread. All made, and gifted with love and appreciation for the intended recipient. We sang at least two Christmas carols for each visit, and with four brothers, two sisters, and musically gifted parents, we sounded pretty good. And although I’m not Catholic, I used to love going to Christmas Eve Mass at St. Bernard’s in Blackfoot, for there was a special ambiance, and a feeling of anticipation that was rich with the spirit of Christmas.

Most endearing and defining was Christmas Eve, with the family gathering in the family room around the Christmas tree, where my father read the verse selection from Luke 2 about the birth of Christ, and we shared thoughts on the importance of the event in our individual lives.

We have sought to perpetuate those traditions, and have added new ones to further enrich the family Christmas experience. We have a box under the tree that is specially marked for the Savior, and we each ponder what we will give to Him on this, His birthday. We review what we wrote down last year, to see how we did, and if we delivered on our gifts to Him. Some of the promised gifts from years past have been things like “more time with family,” “more time studying His word,” or “a more grateful heart.”

Those of other ethnic and religious backgrounds have equally profound traditions marking their observance of their particular holy days and celebratory observances. For all of us, our traditions speak volumes of who we are and what we value in life. But for a Christian nation, one whose very foundation was laid by men and women of faith, such traditions provide a cultural depth and cohesiveness based on common values of freedom, liberty, and faith.

It’s impossible for me to think of tradition without mentally referencing one of my deceased mother’s favorite movies, “The Fiddler On the Roof.” In the opening scene, a precariously perched violinist plays an instantly familiar tune from a steep pitched roof, and Tevye speaks of tradition: “For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. . . Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as…as…As a fiddler on the roof!”

That’s why it saddens me when multi-generational traditions at a national level are abandoned or threatened. Little things like a generic “Holiday Greetings” in lieu of “Merry Christmas!” on the White House “holiday greeting” cards, and the near elimination of the White House nativity scene in the East Room. Granted, these are minor things, but they are symbolic to a nation that is already immensely divided with feelings running deep over a transformation of a country steeped in Christian tradition into something other than “American.”

Since some of our multi-generational traditions with religious roots may have less significance to the leaders of our nation, it perhaps places the onus more literally on us, to observe and perpetuate our traditions, and even expand them. I can’t help but rejoice at the success of the Handel’s Messiah “Sing In” and how that has grown in scope by the move to the Stevens Performing Arts Center, and involvement by ISU music faculty. By so doing, the scope and inclusiveness, and value to the community is broadened, hopefully making it a permanent traditional fixture for the community as a whole.

However you observe, or choose not to observe this holy season for Christians and Jews alike, I extend my warmest wishes for a joyous, and tradition-rich Christmas to all.

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