Tradition : a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time
When we were children, we had a set of cardboard buildings with which we made a tabletop snow scene every Christmas. My sister Nancy and I were usually the ones who placed the church, houses, trees, and candle figurines (which were never ever burned) in a village scene. My mother used to tell the story of how one year, she suggested that we hang the houses on the tree as ornaments. She said that she gave up on that idea when she smelled the tar burning and saw us plucking chickens for the feathers. To say we were appalled is putting it mildly!
I tell this story to acknowledge how important tradition is, especially when it comes to holidays like Christmas. I loved our Christmas traditions when I was a child – from waiting until the Sunday before Christmas to put up and decorate our tree to repeating our Thanksgiving dinner on Christmas to the pattern of our Christmas mornings (church, breakfast, then opening presents).
Even as I grew into adulthood and was no longer spending every Christmas with my family, I incorporated some of our childhood traditions into my own. I still make the same sugar cookies I made then, using cookie cutters just like the ones we had as kids. Although various factors having to do with living in an apartment preclude my having a tree, I hang a wreath and decorate it with the ornaments my mom started putting in our stockings when we were in high school and college. And I don’t care if I just had turkey at Thanksgiving, if I’m in my own home, I make another one for Christmas. The pieces of my traditions that come from my childhood make me feel connected to my past.
I’ve seen, however, that tradition can become a burden if we try to continue it when distance, financial considerations, or family circumstances change. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, my siblings and I did not feel good about our family spending a lot of money on gifts for each other. We asked our mom, dad, and stepmother to donate the money to a charity that they would have spent on us. My dad and stepmother, while disappointed that they would not have an opportunity to give us gifts, complied. However, my mom insisted on doing things the way we had always done them, which led to a lot of negative feelings and to some extent, spoiled our enjoyment of that Christmas and cast a shadow on several subsequent Christmases.
That experience makes me wonder if we should consider doing what I used to do as a project manager. At the end of a project, we have a meeting in which the team reviews the project. We talk about what worked, what didn’t work, what we could have done differently or better. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing to do after the holidays, when it’s fresh in the mind but before we’re on the brink of the next year’s holiday – to think about what is working, what is fulfilling, what is causing resentment or becoming a burden. I don’t mean reverting to whatever is easiest, but thinking about whether our traditions make us feel connected to our loved ones, contribute to our community, and bring us joy. For my part, there have been years when I wasn’t sure I had the energy to make those dozens of cookies to give to friends and co-workers, but did it anyway. I never looked at those plates of cookies and thought ‘man, I wish I hadn’t done that;’ instead, I felt a surge of happiness as I handed them out, knowing people would enjoy them.
So which of your traditions do you want to keep? Are there any you are ready to discard or change? Whatever the answers, I hope your holiday traditions continue to bring you joy.
“Tradition.” Merriam-Webster. 2014. Web.