Christmas is a time of tradition. By definition, tradition is the transmission of customs from generation to generation, but as anyone who has raised children knows, each generation feels a need to put its own stamp on any custom passed on by the previous generation. As a result, while Christmas is a time of tradition, it is also a time of change. Here are a few of them.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Christmas tree. First, the natural evergreen gave way to the flocked tree which was covered by some kind of fluffy concoction that mimicked the appearance of snow. Next came artificial trees. Thankfully, the aluminum ones that were spotlighted with a spinning color wheel were short-lived, but the first plastic ones weren’t much better. They were made of a green material similar to what is used on the end of party toothpicks, and they shed needles almost as badly as the natural trees. Artificial trees have since evolved to the point that it’s hard to tell them from the real thing except that you don’t have to water them, and they don’t begin to droop after a week or two. Having perfected the tree itself, manufacturers have moved to the next level by adding fiber-optic lighting that eliminates the tangled mess of lights that never all work at the same time.
Shopping has also changed a lot. When I was sixteen, I went to work at Woolworth’s in the Big Town Mall. Most of the year, stores closed at 6:00 pm every day except Tuesday and Friday when they stayed open until 9:00 pm. During the Christmas shopping season that began after Thanksgiving, the stores stayed open until 9:00 pm every night. As competition increased, some of the larger stores began staying open until 10:00 or 11:00 the last few days before the big day, but most stores were closed by 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve. Christmas shopping budgets were smaller, too, and there were no advertisements for thirteen-month loans to fulfill the gift wishes of your loved ones.
Candy, cookies, and other treats are still a big part of Christmas, but even that tradition has changed a lot. When Mom made candy, she kept a cup of cold water by the stove and dropped a small bit of the hot mixture into the water to see if had reached the proper stage of readiness. If the spoonfuls of candy were dropped onto the waxed paper too soon, they formed shapeless puddles, and if the candy was cooked too long, it was grainy instead of creamy. Today, even the most old-fashioned cook uses a candy thermometer for this task, and the more modern cooks use modern ingredients that produce a perfect result with much less fuss. Regardless of the method, there are always enough sweet treats to inspire resolutions of diet and exercise in the coming year.
Besides tradition, Christmas is a time of promise. The promise of the tempting packages under the tree changes with the age of the recipient and the consumer trends of the times. Still, the central promise of Christmas never changes. It’s an old promise—a promise as old as the Garden of Eden when God told the serpent that the seed of the woman would crush his head. The promise was repeated throughout Scripture, especially by Isaiah who prophesied that a child would be born, a son would be given. The fulfillment of the promise was announced by Matthew when he said that the child Isaiah had prophesied, the one who would be called Immanuel or God with us, had been born in Bethlehem. Finally, the promise was extended beyond the pages of the Bible when Jesus said that He would be with us to the end of the age. May the joy and peace of the Christmas promise be yours this week as you celebrate the traditions of Christmas.