Archdeacon Michael: Just where do festive traditions come from

The Ven Michael Everitt, Archdeacon of Lancaster
The Ven Michael Everitt, Archdeacon of Lancaster

Today I went for a Christmas meal. The pub in Blackpool had sent the menu complete with traditional Christmas items.

This got me thinking, what is specifically Christmassy about Brussels sprouts or even turkey? So much of our traditions to do with Christmas are fairly recent and many old traditions, such as paper chains and door-to-door carol singers have disappeared.

Whilst I tend to avoid the ‘Christmassy option’ on menus, preferring to wait until the day itself, I love all the traditions, how they evolve and adapt and what is gained or lost in the process.

Families develop their own. For us when the children were younger it was the ‘Santa Special’ on the East Lancashire Railway. Now it’s the Manchester Christmas markets with a friend. These all help to mark that it’s Christmas.

When I was training for ordination in Rome, every nation’s college at our university had a day to share their traditional Christmas. The German college had a Christmas tree and tasteful motets. We sang a mixture of medieval and Victorian carols.

The Spanish college enacted a Posada remembering Joseph and Mary’s journey and there being no room. However, it was the North American College’s offering that stuck. They recognised the huge cultural impact the USA has had on Christmas across the world and so they shared Santa Claus, and songs like ‘Jingle Bells’.

It is easy to say one tradition is good and another bad. However, the traditions we share at Christmas should be ones that bring joy and resonate with a celebration. For Christians it is the demonstration of God’s love for the world in the gift of his son. And that is why we mirror his generosity in gifts to each other.

Some traditions lose their root, or it is a tradition for other reasons (Brussels sprouts are a staple winter vegetable.) As long as with all the tinsel and the jingles we don’t lose sight of the reality then all is fine in my view. But not losing sight is important!