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Holidays or Holy Days?

  • Dr. Charles F. Betters
  • 2015 1 Dec
Holidays or Holy Days?

Memories and traditions mean something to me. On July 6, 1993 we lost our youngest child in a tragic car accident. Mark was only 16 years old. The videos and pictures immediately started rolling as my grieving family replayed the funny, the not so funny, the serious and the not so serious memories of Mark. We laughed and then we cried. Memories and traditions become indispensably precious when they are all that is left of our loved ones. Memories and traditions shape who we are and what we hope to become.

As a child I attended our local Catholic elementary school where I learned to pay careful attention to the various seasons of the church year. For example, I loved Christmas and singing at midnight mass as a choir boy at Saint Mary’s Church in Beaver Falls, Pa. I even had a solo one time, Agnus Dei. After mass we would go home and it was always party time for the adults and bedtime for me as I awaited the arrival of Santa Claus (I was devastated when I found out he lived in the neighborhood of make-believe).

We grew up poor and my mother tried very hard to control my dad’s excessive spending for gifts at Christmas time. After she did her shopping, pinching every penny she could, my dad would somehow secretly slip out and come home with a neatly wrapped package. He set that package on the mantle and for at least three weeks we viewed, but were not allowed to touch, that package. It had two words written on it – “Guess who?” No one knew to whom that gift belonged and my dad would tease us mercilessly in the days leading up to Christmas. Only after all of the other gifts were unpacked and the floor was covered with shredded paper did we find out the recipient of the “guess who” package. I continued that tradition with my kids and it does not surprise me that all three of our adult kids do the same, only teasing more relentlessly.

Then at Easter, in particular on Good Friday, my brother and I would erect three adult size crosses on our tiny back yard lawn and fight with each other and our neighborhood friend as to who would play the roles of Jesus, the good thief and the bad thief. Of course, no one wanted to be the bad thief. So rock, paper, scissors determined the fate of one of us. We then attended mass from noon until 3p.m. (that’s right…three hours) when the priest read the entire passion account. Kids had to stand (it seemed like forever) so that the adults could sit. I recall that every Good Friday it seemed to rain. The truly Catholic kids, myself included, made the Stations of the Cross tracing the supposed Via Dolorosa or way of the cross. Some of it was scripturally valid while some was not. But through it all the season of Jesus’ suffering made a terrific impact on my spiritual journey.

What I find so incredibly precious is how the traditions of our grown children picked up right where we left off. It truly stunned me when, on one of those Good Fridays many years ago, I came down the stairs early in the morning. As I looked up I saw three wood planks flying by the dining room window. Yes, our two youngest boys, Mark and Dan, who were around 7 and 8 years old erected three wooden crosses on a dirt pile on our side yard. And yes, the neighborhood friend was recruited to be the “bad thief.”

SEE ALSO: May Thanksgiving be our everyday (not just a holiday)

Church seasons don’t seem to matter anymore. Our Holy Days have been secularized. And, before you jump to the conclusion that this has happened due to the PC police, stop for a moment and ask yourself whether or not you have been boiled in that kettle like a frog slowly dying a death that you did not see coming. Do our kids any longer look forward to Easter because of its true meaning? Do they look forward to Christmas Eve services and the reading of the birth narratives in the Gospels? Or are they more focused on the presents they will receive the next morning?

Now do not get me wrong. There is a place for family traditions on these Holy Days, a break from school and work, good food, favorite special dishes, and yes, even gift giving. But have we lost our sense of spiritual identity and connection to our roots? Have we so bought into the secular trap of holidays at the expense of the Holy Days? Why not make this next Holy Day season a truly sacred one?

Dr. Charles F. Betters has served as Senior Minister of Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear, Delaware, since 1986 and is frequently called upon to address church pastors and leadership all across the country. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Eastern Baptist Seminary. He earned his Doctoral degree from Covenant Seminary. He has four children and fourteen grandchildren. His wife, Sharon Betters, is the author of Treasures of Encouragement, Treasures in Darkness, Teaching Them Young, and Harlots & Heroines. Dr. Betters and Sharon co-authored Treasures of Faith.

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SEE ALSO: 10 New Holiday Traditions

Publication date: December 1, 2015