Creating substance through traditions

Are you looking to bring some more substance to your holiday observance?  Consider the traditions that you observe.  

Like many other people that I know, I observe a lot of traditions with the advent of the holiday season.  My family and I celebrate Christmas and the New Year with fervor and gusto!  The season begins the day after Thanksgiving and goes until about a week into the new year.  Some of the traditions that we enjoy are shared with multitudes of people around the world, such as decorations, carols and the exchanging of gifts.  Some of them are a little more selective and specific to our family, such as watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and the annual “No-Lip-Sync-Christmas-Song” that we do for our family party.

A tradition can be defined as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  Looked at in this way, a man of style and substance might ask, “What customs or beliefs am I passing on?  What values are being encouraged and preserved in the activities and choices that are repeated from year to year?”  

For myself, I have been asking that question a lot this year.  I’ve been wondering about the gifts we give.  Like many families, Santa was a vigorous part of our Christmas celebrations while the children were little.  And while he continues to be present, he has begun to take a back seat in our observance.  However, his penchant for delivering toys, entertainments and amusements has not diminished in the slightest.  Toys, Games, Electronics, DVD’s and CD’s have been staple fare for our family for some time.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love all of these things.  They are a part of the holiday make up.  And I am not campaigning for their removal from the holiday pantheon.  However, I have found myself asking the question, “Is there something I can do to pass on a more thoughtful disposition?  Is the holiday of peace best celebrated by a first-person-shooter video game?”  I’m not the first to raise these questions, and I am sure I won’t be the last.  

I have, however, found an answer.  

This year, I will be giving books.

Oh, there will still be a Nintendo Switch under the tree, some headphones, a couple of DVD cases and the rest.  But the gifts that I am giving to my children will be books.  Not ebooks, valuable as they may be, convenient as they may be, but books.  Real books.  Books bought at a bookstore, selected from shelves full of options all positioned for my attention, purchased from a cashier at a sales register after standing in line with other shoppers.  Allow me to share with you the values that I feel this has helped me appreciate.

The first is gratitude, an appreciation of my place in history.  Less than 500 years ago, a book store like I enjoyed would be impossible of.  Even 100 years ago, finding a place full of books might require a journey to a large population center.  But this week, I simply drove a few miles from my house.  From the invention of the printing press to the evolution of modern transportation technologies, this is a magnificent time to live.  Climate control allows me to move among the shelves in comfort and ease,  and my purchases are brought home and ready to be wrapped.

The second is permanence, an appreciation for things that last.  A book represents an investment, a purchase in something that is not going to be consumed and forgotten.  A book is also something that requires space and time, not just to read, but to keep.  It becomes a physical reminder of the change that we undergo when we read.  A book is far more substantial than a plastic disk, and far more robust in many ways. Truly a book is a symbol of permanence.

The third is legacy, an appreciation for wisdom obtained and passed on.  Books are a wonderful source of entertainment.  I  have read hundreds for just that reason!  However, I have noticed that when I think on the books that I prize, the books that I recommend, the books that I quote from, I notice that they did more than just entertain me.  Books that make me think, that challenge my assumptions, that elegantly discuss the struggles of the human condition become something more than entertainment.  They become art!  They become a source of inspiration to me, helping me in my efforts to become more thoughtful, more compassionate, more patient with myself and with others.  In short, they help me in my quest to become a man of style and substance.

Traditions are a part of life on many levels.  During the holidays, some traditions ennoble and some entertain.  Perhaps in starting a tradition of giving books, I can start a tradition that does both.  Perhaps you will join me.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.  

Go forth and … Celebrate!

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