Holiday Traditions to Keep and Toss

December 9, 2013

Winter Scene by Timo Newton-Syms

More than any other time of year, these next few weeks are all about traditions. Even people who don’t think of themselves as particularly traditional can find themselves grumpy and out of sorts if their usual holiday routines are changed. There are the special foods we like to make and eat, performances we see every year, ornaments we hang on our tree, decorations we always put up, services we never miss, visits we wouldn’t dare forget…and the list goes on.

Traditions help us connect to the past — and to the present. They give us a sense of continuity and identity. They make us remember, and they allow us to put our stamp on the passage of time. Traditions make an event or a season come alive — but they need to have a purpose, a reason to exist. I love meaningful traditions, but I’ve never been a fan of tradition for tradition’s sake. If they’re stale, void of meaning, or not working for the family, they should be laid to rest so new traditions can be born.

This tends to happen organically when you move into a new stage of life — getting married, starting a family, moving to another country, suffering the loss of a loved one. But we don’t need dramatic life changes to alter what we do and how we do it — just a little reflection on what works and what’s important to you. Sometimes changing things up can help us to see those things more clearly.

For instance: Growing up, Christmas dinner with my family was a grand affair. There were rarely fewer than 15-20 people around the table, and every dish (many of them Christmas-only specialties) was made from scratch. My husband, on the other hand, is an only child, and his otherwise talented mom never enjoyed cooking. B and his father didn’t want to be in the kitchen on Christmas, either, so their dinner tradition was dining out, or takeout — something ethnic, as those are usually the only establishments open on Christmas day.

Fast forward to our family today: For the second year in a row, my mother-in-law will be spending Christmas with us. Last year — our first Christmas home with the girls — I realized it made no sense for me to spend all of Christmas day making a traditional dinner; it was more important to be together and keep the day relaxing. Instead, I made a celebratory brunch, and we all went out for Ethiopian food for dinner. It was great — an unexpected blending of our family traditions, in fact — and probably what we’ll do this year.

I’d love to know if there are traditions you’ve tossed or new ones you’ve started. Perhaps you’re still experimenting?

Image: Timo Newton-Syms

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1 Therese December 10, 2013 at 10:14 am

I love your example, ’cause that’s a pretty dramatic change to adopt! Giving up Christmas cooking would be hard for me and I admire your flexibility.

I think my biggest switch in traditions is a de-emphasis on Santa. Not elimination, but a subtle shift that we bear in mind when making choices about various community pre-Christmas/Advent activities to participate in. I’m trying to keep the sweet magic, but reduce the over-materialism. Not a simple balance or a single choice.

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