Human Interest

Holding on to Rich Traditions

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Dating back at least to the late 1800’s my family has had a powerful tradition of celebrating Christmas at home, together. My maternal great grandparents, John and Della Roland lived in Birmingham, Alabama in a community called Collegeville. They had a tradition of having their family Christmas celebration in a spiritually rich manner. Being only about 35 years removed from the end of slavery, barely out of Reconstruction and clearly enveloped in the Jim Crow south, they were people of strong faith in God and unshakable commitment to family. The tradition of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas as a family was critically important to them. They passed the tradition on to my grandmother, Nathalee Roland-Revis, who was born in 1903. Grandma and Granddaddy, James Robert Nathaniel Isaiah Revis, Sr. continued the tradition as they raised their own large, blended family of nine children. Every Christmas the family would gather in the living room and have what became known as a Christmas program. The Christmas program included reading of the Christmas story from scripture, prayer, singing and exchanging of gifts. It impacted my mom in a profound way. My mom, Evangelist Alfreida D. Revis-Wynne and my dad, Deacon John W. Wynne kept the tradition alive even after they moved to Detroit in the mid 1960’s. I had three sisters, Vanessa, Adriena and Gracene (RIH). We all got in on the celebration. My mom picked up on all the details that her mom implemented in their celebration. She started by decorating the entire house and property around the second week in December. Every room had Christmas appointments, including the bathroom. No area of the house was unattended. She made it such a festive atmosphere all month long. I can recall climbing on top of the house to help my dad string lights and garland. Back then the whole neighborhood would be decorated with lights. In fact, the entire city would be garnished in colorful lights. Some neighborhoods became famous for their elaborate decorative presentations. I can clearly recall us riding all over the city every Sunday evening in December to see the lights in different neighborhoods across the city. Oakman Blvd and the University district were always fabulous. Leading up to Christmas there was a day each year when we would receive new pajamas and slippers. I guess it really wasn’t that big of a deal, except by the time my mom got done setting it up and presenting it, it was quite a big deal to us. No doubt, we did the normal western tradition of putting gifts under the tree and waiting for Santa. When we were little, Mom would put cookies out for Santa. The doorbell would ring on Christmas Eve. This encouraged us to hurry to bed and straight to sleep. She would always answer the door and come back to our rooms to tell us that Santa had to come back, because we were still awake. Man, we could hardly sleep it was so exciting. Of course, after we drank the Christmas eggnog we would be knocked out for the night. When we got up on Christmas morning, of course, there were plenty of toys and gifts waiting for us to enjoy. We played all morning, until Mom and Dad got up for the day.

Once Mom and Dad got up it was time to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Dad would lead us off with a prayer of thanksgiving, remembering to pray for those who may not have been able to have what he called “A big Christmas.” Mom would read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Book of Luke, chapter two, in the King James Version, found in our huge family bible passed down from her parents. After the scripture everyone was expected to contribute to the program acknowledging the true meaning of Christmas. We could sing a song, recite a poem/dramatic reading, or play an instrument, usually something you learned or performed at school or church. All six of us participated fully. After that, we could sing the secular holiday songs like Jingle Bells or Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting). As time went on, so did the tradition. God blessed our clan to grow and expand with the infusion of spouses, in-laws, 14 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and this year we welcomed a great-greatgrandchild, God-Children and extended family members. The exponential growth made executing the tradition very interesting and challenging at the same time. Society has slowed down on decorations and our family is no different. We still decorate, but not to the extent of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Our clan has exploded to about 40 people. However, we still have our annual Christmas program. Each person is still required to participate in making a presentation pertaining to the real meaning of Christmas. I must admit that our millennials were innovative after they realized the rules didn’t prevent them from presenting as a group. So, the new tradition is performing with a small group of people. We had to come up with something to keep to program from being too long. It’s still a long program, but it is worth every minute. One of the sub-traditions is enjoying the look on the face of newcomers who don’t know they have to participate on the program. We all get a good laugh and it is a lot of fun. Another key part of the tradition is that we have a prayer to bless the food before we eat. With that portion, we still require every person to recite a Bible verse at the close of the prayer. We try not to repeat a verse someone else has quoted. So, the fun thing is to go first if you want to make sure you get to recite a short or popular verse. All I’m trying to say is that we have a great deal of love in our family, because our tradition has been passed down and honored for almost 150 years.
Perhaps your family doesn’t have a long tradition, but you can get one. The most important thing is determining what you value, create an activity to demonstrate your commitment, and stay the course. Not every one of my great grandparent’s children continued their tradition, and that’s o.k. Everything is not for everybody. So, be thankful for the freedom to choose which traditions you will honor. If you want to adopt our tradition, that is absolutely, fine. If you want to tailor what we do to fit your family’s dynamics, that works as well. There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to honor your family’s legacy or to create a new one. The important thing is that you know what your options are and make deliberate choices.

 

The Christmas holiday season can be a very challenging time for some people. Many people are stressing over loved ones who have passed away; broken relationships; financial stress and many other challenges. One of the reasons I like the tradition we hold on to is that it helps us to honor our loved ones who have made their transitions. It also helps us to strengthen relationships that may have been strained throughout the year. There is strength in unity. Also, the part of the tradition we hold on to the most is the part that doesn’t cost anything except your presence and willingness to give God some glory on the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. In chapter 3 of my book TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE: 10 Concepts to Consider, I talk about your personal constitution. Your personal constitution deals with your values. This chapter will help you think about what you value in life and includes practical exercises to help you identify what you value most. This kind of exercise could be very helpful if you are considering starting a new tradition or making choices about which traditions are worthy of being maintained. The choice is yours. I am praying that you will find a way of celebrating that honors your family’s best traditions and values this year and in the years to come.

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