I am never more aware of the power of traditions than during November and December. Whether they date back several generations or have been created in recent years, customs that dictate “how things are done” have the power to both comfort and crush me emotionally.
I’m a pretty sentimental person. I suppose that’s why I’m naturally drawn to traditions. Or maybe it’s because I grew up surrounded by a lot of chaos, and traditions provided a rare sense of stability and safety. Whatever the reason, I went into marriage and motherhood with set ideas about how my family would celebrate various holidays.
Thanksgiving would be marked with turkey, obviously, set on a table outfitted with china and cloth napkins reserved only for that annual occasion. The Christmas tree would go up the day after, with seasonal music playing and the scent of cookies baking filling the house. Christmas Eve would be spent at my grandparent’s house, and Christmas morning would be celebrated bright and early in pajamas.
I was able to follow through on most of those traditions for the first few years, and it made me happy to pass my memories on to my children. But then, life started to get in the way.
Other people got married and forced holiday dinners to be rescheduled. We packed up and moved several states away from family, which meant sacrificing Christmas morning in our own house in the name of traveling back home. Holiday cards were replaced with the business of raising two kids while working, and Thanksgiving was more likely to be spent with family than with friends.
Traditions started to cause me more stress than comfort.
I jumped through hoops trying to hold on to the familiar. I felt like a failure when I wasn’t able to maintain them, as if I was letting an ancient story die in my care. And in some cases - like the year we decided not to travel in order to have Christmas morning in our own home - I missed the meaning of those sacred traditions entirely.
Behind every tradition is a reason. As years and generations pass, however, it’s easy to lose sight of the original reason and become focused on doing things a certain way simply because they’ve always been done that way - even if the original goal is no longer being meant.
We forget that meal isn’t about the menu, but the gratitude.
We forget that the gathering was never about the date or the place, but the people.
We forget that the only reason everyone got together on the 26th at Uncle Joe’s is because that was the day Aunt Mary had off work, and that long after Aunt Mary’s gone, it makes sense to reschedule to meet the new demands of the family.
I still love traditions. They still make me feel safe and like I am a part of something bigger and longer lasting than myself. But I’ve discovered that sometimes the best way to maintain the spirit of a tradition is to replace it with something new.
Have you had to adjust some of your holiday traditions?