Christmas: Tradition and Hope

Last friday I spent a good part of my day cleaning up my office. Anyone on our year round team can attest that my office needed it most. Spring cleaning might be the norm for most folks, but in the camp world, December is when we are able to catch our breath, so I chose for “Advent clutter reduction” (working title). In the overstuffed file cabinet that I haven’t touched since coming to camp, I found a folder entitled “Canoe Formation.” Inside it was filled with hand drawn diagrams for the various maneuvers and choreography required for 16 girls in 8 canoes to move and groove on our lake. I noticed by the date that the folder and its contents were compiled when I was still in elementary school. And yet, the formations scribbled on paper were identical to the ones I saw this past summer. The tradition of Canoe Formation seems relatively unchanged.

This idea of “traditions” seems so pertinent around the Christmas season (Yes, it’s the season of Christmas until January 6th). I found myself thinking about the traditions we hold dear while sitting in a pew with my family as we participated in the ancient tradition of a Christmas Eve Service. We heard the same old story we’ve heard for many years. We sang the same beautiful hymns (Hark the Herald Angels Sing is my favorite), and were told the same good news “Christ is born to us; God is with us!” These are traditions, some might call them sacred traditions, but traditions all the same. In the midst of this service I was moved. I was moved by the power of tradition, and the ways that our rituals, as routine as they might seem, can reorient our own lives to be more full of love, joy, and hope.

And you might have your own Christmas traditions? Maybe it’s watching the 24 hour TBS marathon of “A Christmas Story” or that special meal your family labors over for hours? Or it’s the tradition of receiving a crisp $20 bill from your uncle who wasn’t much of a creative gift giver? My cousins and I never complained about that one.

I have found, that when I participate in something over and over again I can ignore the distractions of a rapidly changing world and be grounded in what is truly good. Traditions help me to remember and participate in joy. Ultimately, they give us all glimpses of hope. It is a hope that is not stuck in the past, that is not contained by any hymn, story, or ritual, but is ever present in the world around us, if only we choose to look.

The easiest example of this hope comes at Christmas in the form of a frightened family and a newborn child. It comes in Christ being born to us. This divine act is a bold promise that hope can be found in the darkest, if not strangest of places. It is through our traditions that we tangibly connect to this promise each year. It is the promise that hope can be found for the teenage girl struggling with an eating disorder, that hope can be found in the family wrestling with a painful divorce, that hope can be found in a young mother who, by no choice of her own, was tasked with carrying and giving birth to a savior that would change the world.

Yet hope is not limited to one night or one season of the year. I saw a glimpse of it a few months back at a camp show when an amazingly kind alum of Illahee struck up a conversation with me. Within a few seconds of our chat it was clear that she loves Illahee. Our discussion eventually meandered towards her reflecting on her experience participating in Canoe Formation. Her words were something along the lines of “I never did well in school, making friends, or feeling like I belonged when I was away from camp. But at Illahee and being one of the campers chosen to participate in canoe formation boosted my confidence and I felt loved.” Traditions are powerful because hope is powerful.

May all of our traditions this holiday season lead us to hope.

To the hope of a God who chose to be with us in the most of fragile of ways.

And to the God who chooses to be with us each and every day.

Merry Christmas from the Illahee family,


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 
-Phillipians 4:8