We all have them, especially during the holidays.

We decorate trees, we bake cookies, we play Secret Santa, we stuff stockings, we glaze hams. All in the spirit of Christmas.

But what do any of these traditions really have to do with true meaning of Christmas?

In recent years, I’ve been convicted by just how much I rely on my childhood traditions to enable me to truly enjoy the Christmas season.

When I was 21, I moved from the dreamy white Christmases of West Michigan to experience my first holiday season in Cape Town, South Africa. Like a snowball to the face was the realization that Christmas is celebrated far differently in the southern hemisphere than it is portrayed in The Polar Express.

I groped around for familiarity and did my utmost to recreate the absolute essentials that define Christmas. My poor South African husband eyed me with suspicion in our first year of marriage, when I unboxed the three-foot-high acrylic evergreen and proceeded to adorn it with a single strand of multi-colored lights. Never mind that it was the peak of the South African summer and the African sun didn’t set until well past nine o’clock at night, so there was barely time to actually enjoy the lights anyway.

After several years of trying in vain to make Cape Town my own little winter haven, I gave up and began to accept a “new normal” for the month of December.

In lieu of curling up next to the fireplace with a mug of hot cocoa, I grew used to standing around the outdoor braai (the South African version of a barbecue) with an ice cold Coke. Instead of wrapping up in scarves and long underwear to go sledding and sing Christmas carols in the snow-covered streets, I resorted to slapping on the sunscreen and flip-flops and heading to the beach. I savored the emphasis on family and get-togethers over and above the consumerism and materialism that dominates so much of the holiday season in the U.S.

To read more about how I learned to appreciate the art of treasuring God in our traditions, click here to read the rest of this article, ‘God of Tradition,’ originally published on Ungrind in December 2012: