How to be Anchored in Your Own Story {The Grove: Traditions}

Anyone else humming the timeless tune from Fiddler on the Roof this week?

I couldn’t get it out of my head so I went to Youtube to watch it. Guess what I discovered? A goldmine! The movie starts off with the Papa talking about how dangerous it is to be a fiddler on a roof because you could fall. He then asks this questions of the Jews who live in the town of Anatevka, in the Russian Empire, in 1905: How do we keep our balance?

That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!

“Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. We have traditions for everything. How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes. You may ask, how did these traditions get started? . . . I don’t know, but because of our traditions, everyone of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”

Then there’s the whole part where they sing the Papa, the Papa! The papa! The papa! (Remember? and then) The Mama, the Mama! The sons! The daughters!

The song ends: “Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as . . . as . . . a fiddler on the roof.”

Well, we might not need to elevate traditions to quite that level; but in light of this week’s theme, I have been thinking about their role in our lives overseas.

Traditions help place us in broader stories. They remind us of where we’ve come from and who has gone before us. They can anchor us to people and places. They create new routines and rhythms.

I grew up in a family that was rich with traditions. My mom’s philosophy was that traditions didn’t need to cost a lot of money, they just needed to be consistent. Moving overseas was a chance for some of those traditions to continue, some to be adapted, some to be left behind, and others to be created.

We wanted to take time while it’s still early in the month for us to talk about traditions so that you have time to reflect and we have time to share with each other. You never know when you might hear a new idea you want to try! One of the richest parts of living overseas was getting to share traditions I grew up with and the flip side of getting to partake in my teammates traditions.

I was delighted on December 1st to receive a text message from a former teammate saying she was thinking of me and my family as we had our special December 1st breakfast. (My sister also got a text as many know what a big deal it is to our family.)

Let’s break this down and look at different categories:

First year on the field

  • If this is your first year on the field, what are some of your family or country traditions that you already have in play or you hope will be a part of this holiday season? What are you especially missing this year?
  • If you’re single, what would you like to share with your teammates? This is one of the costs for you, you’re away from people who have known you.  Are there any traditions you will continue on your own?  Or invite others to join you in?
  • If you’re married or married with kids and it’s your first year on the field, part of your cost is being away from in-laws and grandparents and maybe siblings and cousins for your kiddos. What traditions are you hoping to implement?
  • For all of you, what traditions are you missing and, truth-be-told, grieving?
  • What new traditions might you try?

Been on the field for a while:

  • What traditions have you established on the field that you look forward to each year?
  • If you’re single, how open are teammates or locals to hearing about and joining in your traditions?
  • If you’re married, what traditions have you found that anchor you and your family to the bigger story of your family or passport country?
  • How might this year be different from past years? Any ways you need to adapt your traditions?

If you know this is your last year on the field for a while (maybe ever):

  • What are you looking forward to this year, knowing it may be your last chance to experience it?
  • Honestly, what will you not miss about holidays in your host country?

If you are on home assignment or furlough this year:

  • What will you miss from your host country and the ways you celebrated Christmas there?
  • What are you looking forward to participating in with your family, church, or friends?

The father in Fiddler on the Roof was right, traditions do help us to keep our balance. I can’t wait to hear about how you have kept your balance or found new ways to keep it on the field.


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  1. Danielle Wheeler December 3, 2015

    Such good questions!  Christmas traditions have become so important to us as a family.  They really do ground us to each other and to the Christmas story.  This is a pic of our highly portable advent tradition.  Light weight and only supplies you need are envelopes and string!  When the kids were really little we did Truth in the Tinsel (ebook).  Now we’re doing Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (hard cover or audio).  Both come with printable ornaments for the kids to color.  That’s what goes in the envelope.  We open a envelope, we read the story, we light a candle, we color and count down until Jesus’ birthday.  It took me a few years to find our Christmas groove.  The thing about it is that it is tradition now, so there’s no stressing about what to do.  And now the kids even help with getting the envelopes ready and hung.  

    That and a cinnamon roll wreath for Christmas morning, an absolute must-have in the Wheeler family. 🙂

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      Danielle, I think I speak for the whole wide world when i say, we love to see your kids! And to have more resources shared, bonus. So thankful to be on this journey of life together, though apart.

  2. Elizabeth December 3, 2015

    This will probably be my last Christmas in America for awhile (long story as to why), and I’m trying to be present in it and enjoy it. I’m missing Christmas in Cambodia. (But then when I’m stuck in Cambodia at Christmastime for years on end, I’m sure I’ll miss America.) For now, though, Christmas in America just seems stressful! Trying to split our time between families (and all the interpersonal stress that comes with that), and the rush to get presents, it feels like a lot. It’s a bit simpler overseas, and I like that 🙂 But as a child, I LOVED Christmas in America. Loved all our traditions. Maybe it’s just the fact that I had fewer responsibilities then, so all I got was the joy, not the stress 🙂 Then again, I always enjoyed Christmas in America when we still lived here (and had our own house). It’s only been since moving overseas that I’m not as in love with American-style Christmas.

    But anyway, trying to enjoy it here now.

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      Elizabeth, I think not having your own space is a big deal. And then trying to pack in seeing both sides of the family, helping foster special memories for everyone. It’s a lot. Lot. Lot. 

      I’ll be praying for you to enjoy this year :).

  3. Grace L December 4, 2015

    Amy, I loved your reference to Fiddler on the Roof. It has become a tradition for us to watch this movie every January when it is cold outside, and we love sharing it with our local friends (subtitled in Chinese).

    We are older and our children and grandchildren are in the states. So our family here becomes the 9 women who work in our factory, as well as other local friends. Six years ago, I fell and broke my arm right before Christmas and had no choice but to invite our employees into the Christmas decorating. They had no concept of what traditional Christmas trees and decorations should look like and they became wildly creative as they overtook our living room with decorations strung from corner to corner and a heavily laden tree.

    The other tradition I have continued from my time in the states is cookie making. I used to bake and decorate cookies with my sons and his friends. Now our local friends take over the process and love cutting the cookies, baking them, then frosting and decorating them. I dare not drop any of these traditions now as they all love these activities (and time away from their sewing machines). Of course, it is all culminated with a party on Christmas Eve that includes the Christmas story and songs.

    I don’t miss the hectic Christmas activities in the US and all the pressures there. We love being with “family” here and sharing the love of Christ with them as they participate in our Christmas traditions.

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      Grace, I love picturing this movie being shown around the world :)! And the settledness this comment reflects. May this month be sprinkled with joy!

  4. Julie December 5, 2015

    Just an aside — when I lived in Asia, I taught our employees about Fiddler on the Roof songs and it was funny how much the songs could relate to their culture, because of the matchmaking aspect, family values, traditions! (I didn’t even think of that when I first played the songs for them). They really liked the Matchmaker song, and at my engagement party they sang their own version of the song with different words to tell about our story. It was super cute. Long live the Fiddler on the Roof!

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      I hadn’t thought about all this movie has to offer in different contexts … anyone needing a good movie to stimulate conversations? Try Fiddler on the Roof!

  5. TGP December 6, 2015

    This is our first year on the field and I have been dreading this major holiday.  Many of our Christmas traditions centered around things that just aren’t available here in Northern Africa in a Muslim world.  We always went to the zoo lights in our city, I went Black Friday shopping (for me that really kicked off the season. Crazy I know but I love it), we would go to a local museum and do the Christmas display and activities that sponsored the children’s hospital and I would take my kids shopping individually to find their siblings each a gift.  I just really love all the bells and whistles of Christmas.  So much so that I even got married one week before Christmas! Anticipating our move last year my oldest daughter and I sewed a felt Jesse Tree last year and the ornaments that went corresponded with our advent.  This tradition was started when she was 4 years old but we always had a live tree that we hung the ornaments on.  It was special to pull our our Jesse Tree this year and remember making it with her and remembering my living room full of our inner-city neighbors that would come each night of advent to hear the stories.  This year we have had a living room full young girls with their heads covered and single girls on our team that have never done this tradition and a young boy who has never heard these prophetic stories. It’s been special.  We’ve brought loads of Christmas movies and had packages with things for holiday crafting and baking.  I also instituted a new tradition that is highly portable and my kids love.  A traveling nativity.  I have the stable set up under the tree with the animals but the kids move the other pieces of the nativity around our house and compound each day until Christmas Eve when they will meet under the tree and baby Jesus will arrive Christmas morning.  My season is becoming full here and I’m so appreciative.  I will host a cookie swap and have Christmas brunch at my home for our team like I do each year.  We will also do our “birthday party” on Christmas Eve.  I guess Black Friday can wait for a few years 🙂

    1. Amy Young December 8, 2015

      TGP … what fun to read about your living room Jesse Tree! I love how God can take what was special in one context and morph it and add new memories. I wish I could pop in and sample some of your baking!

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