Faith Matters: The stories we tell and the traditions we follow during the holidays

The Hendersons keep Christmas tradition in the family

For 35 years, Gail Henderson has directed the neighborhood Christmas nativity play. Since 2014, Henderson has brought the plays to her pastor son Geoff's church.
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For 35 years, Gail Henderson has directed the neighborhood Christmas nativity play. Since 2014, Henderson has brought the plays to her pastor son Geoff's church.

When I was in kindergarten, I apparently made a turkey “hat” out of construction paper with my hand prints.

I say apparently because I have no first-hand memory of this, but my little kindergarten handwriting gives evidence of my name on the back.

My grandmother, like all good grandmothers, took the “hat” and wore it all through Thanksgiving dinner that year ... and just about every year since.

That is the story behind the tradition of the “Great Turkey,” who is really my grandmother and who secretly visits our front door every Thanksgiving — right after dinner, of course — to leave a small gift for everyone at the table.

It is a story that is recounted every year around our table.

It’s not that much of a secret and it doesn’t take long (no more than a decade) for even the youngest members of the family to clue in to this fun tradition.

My grandmother is now 97 and she can’t really be the “Great Turkey” anymore, but after 30-plus years of the tradition, there was no way that my mother and I would not let it continue. Also, my kids look forward to it every year.

This is the season of tradition for so many families. Some traditions are not so great, but there are others that are worthy because they tell the story of who we are.

Hope Lee.jpg
The Rev. Dr. Hope Lee is the lead pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church and The Well.

One of my favorite traditions in scripture comes from the Old Testament in the book of Joshua.

The Israelites are about to enter into the Promised Land after a long journey in the wilderness. To get there, they have to cross the Jordan River.

As they are doing so, Joshua turns around mid-parted-river and tells them to bring out of the river bed 12 enormous stones that they will use to build a monument to God’s faithfulness when they arrive on the other side.

When I think about the story, I can imagine that for some of the men who were asked to carry out these stones, there must have been at least some mild annoyance.

Picture the conversations in their heads: “We’ve been roaming around for the better part of the last 40 years, we’re almost there, and now we’ve got to carry some lousy boulders to other side of the river? We just want to sit down, kick up our feet and watch some football.”

Well, probably not football, but you get the idea.

But, they did it and they did it because they knew it was going to allow the Israelites to be able to tell the story of God’s faithfulness for generations to come.

What kind of story do your traditions tell? At our church, we do a special advent wreath lighting each week with the children to help them to tell the time of Christmas.

Each week represents 100 years of waiting between the Old Testament and the New Testament, a time when the people were waiting for a Messiah.

Other churches will have a birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Eve to remind everyone that we are celebrating the birth of Christ.

Your traditions will build the monument that will tell your story for generations to come. I want to encourage you during this Holy season to set aside time to reflect on the story that you want future generations to hear about you valued most.

Hopefully, this will include some intentional thought about the traditions that you have been a part of and some critical thinking about whether they are traditions that reflect the story that you want told.

If it’s not the story you want told, then it’s time to change the tradition.

Over at Kirkwood and The Well, we will keep the traditions of the Advent candles, of proclaiming “Good News for all people,” and sharing the love of Christ, because that is the story that changes the world for all of us today and for generations to come.

The Rev. Dr. Hope Lee, lead pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church and The Well, can be reached at 941-794-6229, or Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.