Call me sentimental. Or old-fashioned. Or perhaps habitual. The simple truth is… I’m a lover of traditions.
Many traditions are tied to holidays or special occasions. So as our first Christmas and New Year’s Day with a child approached in 2008, I suddenly felt pressure to nail down the practices we would hold for years to come. For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out from the get-go. Adding to some family traditions which Scott and I had celebrated since our childhoods, we had begun to establish some new traditions after we married. Scott assured me that we could add in family customs throughout the years. After all, would our 11-month-old even recall his first experience of traditions? And isn’t it fun to discover and establish new rituals throughout the years?
Reading through Noel Piper’s beautiful and practical book Treasuring God in Our Traditions (a book that I return to often for ideas, direction, and encouragement), I was reminded that “our celebrations are occasions to look back and remember what God has done in the world and in our lives.” (Piper, p.64) Piper, wife of renowned author and pastor John Piper, also shares this great quote from Milo Shannon-Thornberry: “Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”
Now that our children are at ages where they can understand, communicate, and contribute, new traditions have been springing up. And it’s so much fun! Ever since getting married, Scott and I have entered each new year with a planning retreat. Well, I say “retreat” with a liberal meaning. The first two years, we got away for a couple of nights to do our planning and evaluating. During the last couple of years, our “retreats” occur on our living room couch after the kids have fallen asleep.
We originally got the idea from our pastor and his wife who have been doing this same planning every year. They even shared a basic outline of topics they discuss and evaluate. Scott and I elaborated on the outline and have covered everything from dietary/health goals to financial plans for the next year to marital goals. We not only establish goals together but also make lists of our personal hopes and plans. For example, I often make a list of books I want to read. Or hobbies I want to pursue. Friendships I want to rekindle. Or habits I want to build. We generally cover these topics: health/physical, marital, family, spiritual/ministry, career, hobbies, social, personal, and financial.
Making a list of anticipated expenses, whether in housing repairs or vacations, we are able to prioritize which item needs attention first. So we end up being on the same page when those expenses come down the pipeline. We’ve made goals of weekly or monthly dates, reading a marriage book each year, and other relational issues. (And I bet all you parents of young children can guess which topic we annually address and vow to give time and intention to! 🙂 ) We’ve even included goals as silly as vowing to eat a green vegetable at least twice a week (we just aren’t vegetable lovers).
I’ve never really been one for making resolutions. But our planning retreats are helpful in leading us to reevaluate our desires and plans vs our actual activities and pursuits. We know that we will fall short of our goals and lists, but putting them on paper helps us be more intentional. And it’s always fun to look back on past planning lists and see how God has worked. Last year, I smiled as I reviewed some of our dreams from years past. From completed adoptions to my first published article, I giggled at the fulfilled plans which once had seemed like distant possibilities. We have some plans and goals which remain constants every year, but reviewing them reminds us that they are priorities.
Yesterday, in celebration of the new year, we sat down with our kids to help them determine their own goals and plans for 2012. Carter’s top two goals were: (1) to learn how to fight bad guys, and (2) to not be scared when the toilet flushes! He also decided he wanted to learn how to read a book all by himself. Caroline hopes to study ballet, master English, and win Super Mario Kart on the Wii. Grace declared she would be potty-trained, learn more ballet, and learn how to write her alphabet. Their plans are not deep or even remotely spiritual. In an effort to divert them from focusing solely on themselves, we encouraged them to set a goal of memorizing a new Bible verse each month and to find a project to serve the community. But it’s a start. Next year on New Year’s Day, we can whip out the list and see what they have accomplished. I also hope that they will take this tradition as an opportunity to trace what God has done in their lives and the community throughout each year.
I have to confess that I failed my parents yesterday in not carrying out their own tradition of years past…making black-eyed peas and rice on January 1st. But I must remind myself, it’s never too late to start a new tradition or bring back an old one.
I’d love to hear what traditions you celebrate with your own families. I should have posted this before New Year’s to garner ideas for this holiday, but we can print them and save them for 2013. Whether it’s rituals for birthdays, Easter, Advent, or any other holiday/occasion, feel free to share how you make the celebrations special.