Most all families have some traditions. Often these focus around holidays. While I was growing up, there was not a debate: Christmas Eve was at my grandparents’ home where a generous meal climaxed in the joyous opening of presents. Other families reserve the same week every year so they can vacation together, often at the same spot. Traditions protect relationships and help us remember how we are committed to and love one another as family.
The Christian family, also known as the Church, has done this since earliest years, and made these traditions into a church calendar. Though this dates back to the fourth century and earlier, some Protestants are a bit erratic in how it is celebrated these days as it seems a bit “Catholic.” However, in the early days, all of the church was “catholic,” that is, universal. There was no “Roman Catholic” church, just the Church universal. That is what we refer to when we cite the Apostles’ Creed on Sundays.
The Church calendar is built around two major seasons focused on the two major Christian holidays: Christmas and Easter. Most all Christians observe these. Many Protestants still include Advent, and at First Pres we celebrate with the Advent wreath being lighted by families on the four Sundays before Christmas. We, of course, celebrate Easter and even Good Friday is a holiday for most. But what of the rest of the tradition – the rest of our family calendar that calls us together to celebrate our ancestry dating back to Jesus? It is a little fuzzy. Different churches do different things.
So, a quick look at the main events. We are familiar with Advent where we anticipate the birth of Christ and His return by preparing our hearts. In the Christian calendar, however, Christmas is a season, not just a day. Guess what? It lasts twelve days (does this bring a song to mind?). It ends with Epiphany, a celebration of the visit of the wise men to see Jesus (remember: they weren’t present at the manger.)
The calendar takes a break until the Easter season begins. As Advent leads up to Christmas, so Lent leads up to Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The ashes placed on the foreheads in some churches represent the dust of which we are made and to which we return as we enter into a season of repentance and reflection as we prepare our hearts for Easter. This heightened awareness of our sin and mortality serves to help the Church family be more grateful for the redemption accomplished by Christ on Easter weekend. It also commemorates Jesus’ suffering as He fasted the forty days in the wilderness when He was tempted by Satan. (For folks who notice numbers, Lent is actually 46 days as Sundays are considered feast days and are not included.)
I find something special in remembering these days and seasons, sharing in my spiritual family’s tradition of nearly 2000 years. It keeps my focus on Jesus in these seasons and on all that He has done for me and my Church family. The next season is Lent (Ash Wednesday is March 1st), and often Christians give up something for Lent as a way of sharing in Christ’s suffering during His fast. This does not have to be food, but it might be media or other things that might distract us from our Lord.
Prayerfully consider how God would have you and your biological family connect to the traditions of your spiritual family this year.
~Timothy A. Sisemore