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Sunday, November 18, 2018
New Year. New Place. New Idea.
If you read my books, you know that one of my suggestions about holidays post-divorce is to create new traditions of your own. However, the same can apply in almost any transition of your life, when it is time to close one chapter and start the next. The importance of embracing fresh traditions to renew or enrich old meanings, or to discover new ones for a new time of life should not be underestimated. After all, when those transitions come, so do the questions.
For instance, parents who have for years been immersed in their children’s daily needs and activities one day encounter an empty nest when they come home. The questions come pouring in now? Who am I, now that I am not the mother or father of a little child? What does it mean to be a good parent for an adult child. Or after the death of a spouse, the questions become things like, “How am I supposed to go on without her?” or, “How do I fill the emptiness in my home?” New traditions can help us find those answers as we build new meanings for new times.
I think back over my life, and there have memories of traditions, both those that have carried with me wherever I was, and others have varied in different places and different times. For example, from childhood on, I have always spent time watching at least part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s (you can imagine my thrill when I got to attend each of them in person!) Or almost every New Year’s Eve for about 30 years now, a small group of friends have gathered at one another’s homes to play Spades and watch the ball drop in Times Square. (And for those of you math whizzes who are trying to use that to figure out my age, yes, I knew how to play cards when I was 5!!) And no matter where I have been or my situation in life, Christmas Eve always has included a candlelight service at church before any presents were to be opened.
Other traditions have come and gone. For example, there was a time when the Christmas season meant the annual trek to the Cincinnati zoo when it was all lit beautiful lights and the fountain was flooded and turned into a free ice-skating rink, or the walk by Carew Tower downtown with the marvelous exhibit of model trains and festive windows. In Kansas City I loved to drive through a suburban neighborhood where everyone joined together with decorated homes and huge greeting cards in the yards. I communities where I pastored, one we celebrated an annual Christmas party and white elephant gifts with a study group, and another had churches combining to stage a driving tour of live biblical scenes of Christmas and the life of Christ. Or in more recent years, we gathered with my cousins and my dad and uncle, around a long set of tables for a humongous Thanksgiving meal together, or on Christmas Eve for a crazy mad dash game built around white elephant and fun gifts and laughter, which ended after our parents passed away and my wife and I moved. But you see, each of those memories is unique to each of those place, and each of those times, and so becomes a special chapter in my heart.
So how do you make that new tradition and adapt? After my divorce, for Thanksgiving, I bought one of the deep fryers for whole turkeys, and for several years enjoyed the difference that made in my Thanksgiving feast (as well as among the college students I was leading). I still have the fryer, but don’t use it as often…it was more important at that time. As I struggled to find new traditions to brighten Christmas after the divorce, a friend introduced to an idea that became a great tradition, which was to attend a nearby extravagant dramatic production of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which I used as a special time with the children, and with my second wife. I remember that time fondly whenever I hang the “God Bless Us, One and All” ornament on the Christmas tree, even though it has been over a decade since I went.
Another shift for me was that, having used an artificial tree throughout my first marriage, I decided when alone to return to my growing up years, and so for many years in my new home, both when single and with my second wife, Nola, I would make everyone bundle up and we would go to a Christmas tree farm where we could select and cut down our own Christmas tree…but only after searching for a significant period of time to make sure we found the perfecttree. (Well, except maybe that one year when there was also an ice storm and bitter cold, so the youngster with us on the wagon out to the trees “just happened” to find that perfect tree very quickly and were able to spot it without even having to get off the their seats to go and look!)
Memories, meaning, traditions—new and old, each for a time, each for a place, each taking their role in the chapters that compose the story of my life and relationships. Some of those chapters came into being because I moved to a new location. Some came because of life changes such as death or divorce. And some have been there since childhood. This year, I encourage you to look around and consider, what could be that tradition for you?
Oh, perhaps you are wondering about the title of this blog? Well, Nola and I moved to a new church and a new town in Nebraska just a couple of years ago, so we have been having to create new traditions, as she has reconnected and introduced me to relatives on her side of the family. This week, I think I found what I hope will become a new Christmas tradition that will become one of my fond memories from this place and this time. You see, I was recently listening to one of my Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas cd’s to help me get in the mood as I was making plans for the church for Advent. In the midst of it, the thought suddenly occurred to me that I love their music and have always wanted to go to a concert, but never knew when they were coming and so always missed it. This time, it was well before Christmas, so I decided to look on the internet to see what their tour was, and lo and behold, they were going to be nearby. I suggested it would make a great Christmas present if my wife wanted to take me, and so she bought the tickets, we went this past week to an absolutely phenomenal concert (if you like their style, of course), and I told her afterwards, I think I have found what might be a new Christmas tradition! I heartily recommend it!
(By the way, I also told her how refreshing I thought it was to listen to an entire Christmas concert that wasn’t an overtly Christian specialty, and to not once hear anything about Santa Claus or Rudolph or a Grinch or Jingle Bells…just reminders of the wonder of Christmas and the birth of the babe in the manger.)
May you each find some fresh and meaningful traditions to embellish this chapter of your life. Start now.