Anthropologists like to explain that tradition, ritual, seeks to strengthen belief, to allay anxiety, to structure communication, and is a means of social control. But surely there is more to it than that. It is true that repetition gives a feeling of continuity and hence steadies nerves and provides structure, but tradition also makes you revisit feelings and issues at regular intervals and thus facilitates immersion, depth of feeling and knowledge!
In a rapidly changing world tradition is an anchor that keeps you connected to your past. Those who reject tradition might be very secure human beings without need for anchors, yet without anchors are you not adrift both emotionally and morally? If you only seek the new without judging it against your past, if new is always better simply because it is new, then you may be a terrific learner but are you wise, are you a full human being? As a terrific learner you may remember all you learned in the past, but if you only learn and never digest all depth would appear to have been lost.
Our society puts tremendous stock in learning, and that is good, but it does so often at the expense of wisdom, and that is bad. In a society of plenty surely we need to prize wisdom, and make sure that time is given to reflect. Tradition is not the only means to further reflection, but it is a potent one. In Christendom Christmas is the epitome of tradition. Christmas gives us the light versus the dark, the cold versus the warm; Christmas allows us to breathe freer and to rediscover the child in us, it is the reign of beauty and joy! Christmas is the time to take stock – and to digest, both physically and spiritually.
Endless repetition may be bothersome, as explained in my book, but for human lives as they are now no Christmas can be too many. So embrace Christmas, treasure your privilege, reflect, and be charitable towards the many who are left looking in from the outside. Generosity of spirit is a first principle of humanity, and it is good that the Christmas tradition reminds us about this again and again!