As I sit at my computer to write this week’s column, it is only a couple of days until the New Year. I remember my first New Year’s Day in Arkansas, thirty-five years ago. A few days before New Year’s, someone from the auto parts store that I traded with stopped by my shop and gave me a specially labeled can of black-eyed peas. I took the can home to my wife who was puzzled by the strange gift from the auto parts store.
I asked another bodyman if the auto parts store had given him a can of black-eyed peas. He said, “yes, why do you ask?” I told him that I thought it was a bit strange. He explained that it was a long-standing tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. The only New Year’s tradition that I had heard of was making New Year’s resolutions.
Southern Living magazine says, “according to folklore, this auspicious New Year’s Day tradition dates back to the Civil War, when Union troops pillaged the land, leaving behind only black-eyed peas and greens as animal fodder. Rich in nutrients, these were the humble foods that enabled Southerners to survive.” Like most traditions, this one has many variations. Some say you should eat exactly 365 peas on New Year's Day. If you eat any less, you'll only be lucky for that many days. Others say you should leave one pea on your plate, to share your luck with someone else. I have also heard that if you don't eat every pea on your plate, your luck will be bad.
Traditions are a part of life no matter where you live. Traditions vary from place to place and from one family to another. Our family has many Christmas traditions. Christmas morning my wife has made the same breakfast for many years. The interesting thing about this special meal of egg, cream and sausage casserole and Christmas Coffee Cake is that we don’t eat those foods any other day of the year.
My daughter takes the Christmas traditions very seriously. This year we bought new living room furniture that didn’t leave enough room for the Christmas tree to be where it has been for over 20 years. I wasn’t sure my daughter was going to be able to handle the tree being in a different location. On our first Christmas together my wife bought a Disney paint by number ornament kit. She painstakingly painted the wood cutouts of Disney characters. They have hung on our tree for over 40 years. When my kids were teenagers, they wanted to know why we had to put those ugly old ornaments on the tree. They didn’t think they were attractive. Now it is traditional for my daughter to complain, tongue-in-cheek, about those old ornaments.
I think that we may have started a new tradition this year with my granddaughters, aged eleven, nine, and six. They were very curious about how their grandparents celebrated Christmas years ago. They were especially intrigued with my wife’s story of the artificial aluminum Christmas tree lit with a color wheel that was her Dad’s favorite. They had heard about making popcorn garland and wanted to try. We popped some corn and the girls spent the evening stringing popcorn and decorating Grandma’s tree. Everyone loved the way it looked on the tree. It was a special Christmas memory for the girls, and I’m sure that they will want to string popcorn again next year.
When two people get married, they have to blend the traditions of their families, or they have to create new traditions. My wife’s family always opened their gifts on Christmas morning. I grew up opening gifts on Christmas Eve. We compromised by opening our gifts on Christmas morning. My wife believes very strongly that Christmas morning is the proper time to open gifts.
I have noticed that many Christians believe very strongly in their traditions. Traditions are not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Some people defend traditions because the church has practiced it that way for years. Other people dislike tradition and want change just for the sake of change. Invariably those people begin new practices, which soon become their new traditions.
Christians should be neither "traditional" nor "non-traditional.” They should neither accept nor oppose a practice simply because it is a tradition. It doesn’t matter how long we have practiced something or when it began. What’s important is what God’s word says about it. If God's word requires it, then we must do it. If God's word forbids it, then we must oppose it even if it is a tradition. If God’s word is silent, then there is no problem with tradition, but I can’t expect all Christians to follow just because it is my tradition.
In Jesus' day, tradition was a big part of religion. One day some Pharisees demanded that Jesus tell them why his disciples did not follow their tradition. Jesus answered them, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV)
Gentle Reader, are you following the tradition of God, or are you following human traditions and doctrines that differ from His word? “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (NKJV)