As I spent part of the weekend cleaning, doing laundry, and all the other important but rather mundane chores that never seem to be finished, I listened to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite on repeat. I generally only listen to the music from this famous ballet around Christmastime, and every once in a while I would pause and just listen during my favorite passages.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters believe that the Bible is the only rule of faith. All Christian truths, they believe, are to be found in the pages of the Holy Book, and anything else is not valued. Catholics, however, recognize the importance of the sacred Scripture, but we also recognize that our faith relies on Apostolic Tradition as well. In the Second Vatican Council’s document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (Latin: The Word of God”), the relationship between Tradition and Scripture is explained:
“Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.”
Some of the beautiful traditions of our church are often some of the most memorable for our students when they get older: May Crowning, Stations of the Cross, and the Living Rosary to name a few. No matter where you travel in the world, these Catholic traditions are celebrated and help us understand and grow in our faith. They unite us to the larger Catholic community, not only in the present, but over the past 2000+ years, and they will continue until the end of time.
The value of tradition makes its way into our own families as well. My children are all adults now, but they continue some of the traditions that we established when they were young, some which were passed on from earlier generations. For example, my mother, who is from Germany, remembers the family Christmas tree (at least before the onset of WWII), decorated with real candles, so I have always put real candles on my Christmas tree, even though we don’t light them. Christmas cookie recipes have been handed down from my grandmother and my mother, and now my daughter bakes the same goodies, reading from a copy of her relative’s handwriting on old, yellowed recipe cards. While some families open presents on Christmas Eve, we always waited until Christmas morning, and rather than everyone opening gifts all at once, we opened one at a time, starting with the youngest child, and moving all the way through to mom and dad, and then repeating the process, drawing out the excitement for a good while. This was always followed by a breakfast of Eggs Benedict, a dish all four of my grown children now enjoy making. As my children got older, we often went on a hike on Christmas day, and sometimes we decided to go to a movie (FYI: Marly and Me, and War Horse were not the best choices – a bit too sad for a joyful Christmas).
I’m not sure the traditions we established were planned out – they just sort of got repeated and then stuck, and now I recognize and appreciate the great value behind these traditions and the memories they ignite. I think fondly of my grandmother when I am baking one of her Christmas treats and different ornaments on the tree send me back in time to when it was purchased or gifted. Even though we will only have one of our four children with us on Christmas morning this year, the memories of Christmases past will fill our house with joy and happiness.
Consider what traditions you would like to see passed on in your own families or start something new this year and help it take root. Children, and adults I think, find comfort in stability and consistency. It helps us to feel grounded, knowing that we are an important part of something much bigger, and these traditions are the key to remembering we are always loved.
May God bless you abundantly this Christmas and fill your homes and hearts with peace.