Gospel Thinking: How Do We Decide Our Family Traditions?

Each month, messages arrive in our inbox asking what we think about Halloween, Santa, the Easter Bunny, Advent, Lent, and more. At Risen Motherhood, we love engaging your questions, but our heart is to also equip moms to apply the gospel to everyday life for themselves.

Equipping means preparing moms for the task of gospel application by observing the scriptures together and asking good questions. This article from a pastor is a great examination of the topic of traditions. We hope it’s helpful as you evaluate the many options for seasons, holidays, and family traditions you have in life. We encourage you to study this topic on your own as well, cross-examining everything you read online with your own first-hand knowledge of God’s word.

Download our free equipping printable with these questions here.

When it comes to parenting, the question of (and conflicts over) traditions is natural. I love traditions. More accurately, I love my traditions. So, navigating which traditions we would observe was an unexpected journey for my wife and me.

Personal preference aside, I felt the pressure to “keep Christ” in our holidays and celebrations. I heard that seasons and days were especially good if we made them about Christ, more than other "normal days." The world encroached upon them with secular influence. My job, as a husband and father (and pastor), was to "take them back." 


Efforts to keep Christ in our traditions can bring us into conflict with the world and family. Days of travel, feasting, gifts, games, and small-talk may not feel “Christ-centered.” In my 20s, I found myself burdened with guilt around holidays and notable seasons, feeling that I wasn’t ever doing enough to honor Jesus. As a young father, I felt like a failure. I wondered if I had the best traditions to ensure my kids treasured Jesus and would follow him all their days.

Relief arrived when I considered what the Bible had to say about traditions and “holy days.”

The New Testament word for “traditions” (paradosis) refers to handing down a way of acting or believing. It is used fourteen times:

●  Matthew 15:1-11 (3x), Mark 7:1-13 (5x) — Jesus refers to man-made traditions pitted against the commandments of God.

●  1 Corinthians 11:2 — Paul mentions the "traditions" he delivered. This refers to his teaching about Christ and its implication for conduct in church.

● Galatians 1:14 — Paul speaks of the "traditions of my fathers" (that is, Jewish teaching and practice).

●  Colossians 2:8 — Paul warns of empty "human tradition" that takes them captive. These are according to demons but not according to Christ. Such seems to refer to a return to Jewish traditions, including the observations of Sabbaths and festivals prescribed in the Mosaic Law (16-17), along with asceticism and mysticism (18-23).

●  2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6 — Paul encourages his readers to "hold firm to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." They are to avoid those who do not walk "in accord with the tradition that you received from us." "Tradition" here refers to instruction in the gospel and its resulting ethical practices. 

These passages (and a few others) help us draw some preliminary observations on traditions in the Christian life: 

(1) In the Gospels, tradition is presented negatively. In particular, Jesus condemns man-made customs pitted against God's commands (especially against Christ).

(2) Paul speaks negatively of "traditions" in two instances. Once, in his former (anti-gospel) life in Judaism. Once, of anti-gospel practice threatening the church. In both cases, Paul is referring to Jewish practice, likely observance of the Mosaic Law.

(3) Paul speaks positively of "traditions" in two instances. Once, of his teaching about Christ and how it informs conduct as a gathered church. Once, of his teaching of the gospel (by spoken or written word) and its ethical implications.

(4) Under the Old Covenant, traditions primarily were activities based around the calendar (festivals, seasons, Sabbaths).

(5) Old Covenant traditions were mostly ineffective in heart-change. (For all the annual, monthly, and weekly traditions prescribed in the Law, they did not work to change the heart.)

(6) The New Covenant is radically different than the Old. It does not prescribe the observation of any day or season. Instead, it mandates the regular assembly of believers in the local church to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25) through the word preached (2 Timothy 4:2), prayer (1 Timothy 2:8), singing (Colossians 3:16), and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). For Paul, good "tradition" is teaching the gospel (whether by mouth or by letter). This teaching has ethical implications. We no longer need the old forms because the new message contains in itself the power of God to save (2 Corinthians 3-4). 

(7) Paul doesn't forbid Old Covenant traditions in all cases. Some consciences were so shaped by them that it would be dangerous for these believers to go against them (Romans 14). But Paul is free from them. He insists that all believers are free from them. He sees no value in keeping them other than love for the believer with a weak-conscience in these matters.

(8) We should guard our freedom in the gospel. We should be wary of putting our hope of transformation in a form that did not transform the heart (Colossians 2:16-23).

(9) We should rest knowing that we have entered the true “holy-day" through faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:9-10).

(10) In the past 2,000 years, the "Christian tradition" has often tried to return to Old Covenant forms. This is generally justified through an appeal to Old Covenant patterns or to "church tradition." This creates unnecessary guilt, confusion, and tension among believers.

(11) We should prioritize the "tradition" that Paul did—the gospel and its implications for life.

God does not require believers to recognize "holy days" and extra-biblical traditions. Thus, the gospel frees us to do whatever we want on holidays, birthdays, and “special” seasons. We can celebrate the incarnation or resurrection with our local church. We can use these "seasons" to teach our kids about how God fulfills his promises. We can go watch a movie as a family. We can go about our normal work routines. So long as we’re living by faith in the completed work of Christ—a faith that works itself out in love for others—we’re free to do as we please.

We demonstrate Christ-like love by imitating Christ, who died for our sins and rose again. We display him by laying aside our preferences for those of others. The way we love our extended families, neighbors, and the world will teach our children more about the gospel than any strict holiday traditions ever could. Let’s treasure Christ both in and above our traditions.

In light of what we’ve observed about traditions in the Bible, here are some questions from the Risen Motherhood Team for discussing family traditions: 

●      What seasons, holidays, special days, or traditions does your family currently practice?

●      Why did you adopt these and what do you hope they communicate to your family?

●      Are there any holidays, special days, or traditions that you feel pressure (from the culture, other family members, or Christian culture) to adopt and practice?

●      Based on this short study of traditions in the Bible, do you think God wants you to feel guilty? Why or why not?

●      Are there holidays, special days, or family traditions you should adopt to better love your neighbors through relationship and service?

●      Are there any holidays, special days, or family traditions you should forgo to better love your neighbors through relationships and service?

●      How can you love and give freedom to family members, friends, and neighbors who don’t want to practice holidays and traditions in the same way you do? Are you putting pressure on others that isn’t in scripture?


Eric is a husband, father, pastor, proud Iowa-native, and graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Eric has collaborated in writing worship songs, such as “Not in Me," for over ten years at Thousand Tongues. He also dabbles in country and folk music, as well as fiction and devotional writing. Connect with Eric on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or his website, emschumacher.com.