by Autumn Ward
One of the traditions my family has each Christmas is driving around, in our pajamas, looking at Christmas lights. We sing off-tune Christmas songs as we “Ooo” and “Ahh” at all the decorations. Sooner or later, I find myself remembering back to when I was the kid and it was my dad driving my brother and me around in his big brown Impala. We would crisscross that huge backseat looking at all the lights. That childhood memory makes me feel safe inside, like I’m anchored to something strong and secure. I look back at my own three as they sit smiling with wonder, and I hope that when they become moms and dads, they too will be able to pull some happiness from their memory bank and experience that same feeling. It’s a gift. Creating memories through traditions is a wonderful, priceless gift that all parents can give their children.
We, as church leaders, can help families by simply encouraging them to stop and think about their traditions and the memories they are creating. Ask your parents to imagine their children as adults. What will their memory bank look like? Will it be full, half full, empty? Your next step as a leader is to give your families some ideas to get them started. Sit with your staff and brainstorm simple traditions for every holiday on the calendar and then make them available to your parents. Encourage your parents to pick just a few that they can repeat each year. The “what” they choose to do isn’t the most important thing. It’s the consistency and love behind whatever traditions they choose to do. Keep reminding your parents to create a memory throughout the year. In doing this, they will give their children a gift that can be reopened time and time again.
I asked my children to name some of their favorite family traditions. Here is what they said (ages 9, 12, and 14):
- Everyone getting a new book at Barnes and Noble at the beginning of our beach vacation.
- We have to stop if the Krispy Kreme light is on—have to—no matter the city or state.
- Making a paper chain of red and green construction paper at Christmas. Each ring has something special written on it that we do that day. (It can be anything from watching “Rudolph” to praying for the lost.)
- Attending Christmas Eve service at church and wearing special clothes.
- Stockings filled with favorite treats.
- Old Time photos each year in Gatlinburg, TN.
- Eating birthday dinner on the “special plate.”
- Holding hands and praying before we eat.
- Getting our nails done at the salon before vacation.
- Tucking into bed each night and praying together.
- Waving the American flag at the local 4th of July parade.
- Funnel cakes at the county fair.
- A summer Braves game.
- Looking for the largest pumpkin at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm but buying a cheaper one at the grocery store.
- Making a birthday cake for Jesus at Christmas and singing “Happy Birthday” to Him.
- Saying one thing we are thankful for before eating Thanksgiving dinner.
- Reading the Christmas story, from the Bible, on Christmas Eve.
- Making a thankful tree with construction paper leaves throughout the month of November.
- Decorating Christmas cookies for neighbors.
None of these activities are really that big of a deal in the moment, but when repeated year after year they become so much more than a cake or a pumpkin, they become that childhood memory that makes a person feel safe inside, like they are anchored to something strong and secure.
Autumn Ward loves Jesus. She has been married to Chad, her most favorite person ever, for 16 years. They have three amazing kids, Joseph (14), Sarah (12) and Anna (9). She is passionate about creating a home for her family and helping other families find their way to Him. She serves in the preschool ministry at Browns Bridge Community Church and is a writer for the First Look preschool curriculum.