Friday, December 18, 2015

The Non-Tradition Tradition

When I was growing up, we celebrated all holidays pretty much the same way: spend mornings together as a family, get together with extended family at various pre-approved locales for the day, return home in the evening.  Depending on the holiday, we could depend on knowing exactly which gathering place was the day’s destination.  I’d look forward to eating the same food year after year, seeing all the same people, and catching up on a year’s worth of conversations during these times.  Sprinkled around the main event were preparations that never wavered: cooking, baking, shopping, decorating.

Those memories are good ones, warm ones.  They make up most of the nostalgia I feel during the holidays today.

Back then it was easier to keep the traditions going because most of us lived close to each other. 

Not so anymore.  We are scattered.  The third generation of my family who met up every holiday thirty years ago are flung far and wide.  Some of the people who left a firm imprint on my historical make-up I haven’t seen in years.  And of course, others are gone forever.

Like the people who kept them, the traditions have scattered.

Sometimes I hear rumblings of discontent in people who want traditions to stay alive.  I think of how my husband and I each moved away from home to build a life elsewhere.  It’s simply not feasible for us to get together for a Sunday dinner with cousins or stop in at Grandma’s for a visit on a Thursday night, or spend Christmas or Easter or even Halloween away from our home most years.

We’ve even given up traditions that we attempt to build in our own family.  Life changes every day, and what worked yesterday isn’t guaranteed to work tomorrow.

Sometimes I feel bad for our kids, because they don’t get to celebrate a holiday the same way every year.  After all, we all want for our children that which we hold dear.  But traditions don’t always work for everyone, and we’ve adapted to this truth.

I don’t mind mixing up the holidays.  My day-to-day life is routine; I like to know that something different than the usual is coming up.  For some people, it may be a little too much to stomach.  Some yearn for old customs, want to do the same thing at least two years in a row.  Sometimes the only thing holding us back from trying a new thing is our firm grip on the past.

Despite my love of nostalgia, I’m okay with killing traditions.  This life allows it.  I like remembering, but time has a habit of ripping precious things out of my grasp, and there’s no stopping it.  I’ve embraced non-tradition. 

Every year our family decides how we will spend the holidays.  Every year we throw out suggestions, and come to a compromise.  This will not be the year that we spend Christmas in Hawaii.  Nor will it be one where we host a traditional family-filled gathering in our home. 

The point is not the tradition.  When tradition is adhered to against reason and common sense, it becomes unwieldy, a drag.  The point is that we celebrate the things that we deem important together.  Whether a small, quick, quiet holiday or a large, loud, drawn-out one, it can change every year of my life and I’d be okay with it.  To me, those are just more memories to think about when recalling the holidays of the past.

Do you spend holidays the same way every year?



  1. My husband is the king of tradition and nostalgia; he looks back on his own childhood Christmases with a kind of soft, warm remembering that is impossible to recreate.

    I love that he is sentimental and wants to make the holidays WONDERFUL for our kids but I sometimes feel like I can't compete. He imagines his past was perfect - far better than anything we could possibly do now and that's simply not true.

    For this reason, I'm fine changing things up a little from year to year. I don't want my kids to find their holiday happiness too wrapped up in tradition. If that makes sense.

    P.S. I'm not complaining. Bill is awesome and his intentions are pure. I'm simply looking at the bright side of change.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. I don't want to teach my kids that enjoyment of the holidays relies on doing the same thing year after year, either. I don't ever want my kids to say that Christmas wasn't as good the year we didn't do x, y, and z. What's important here? What we're celebrating or how we celebrate it?

      It's worth saying that sometimes the people who insist on the big holiday traditions often aren't involved in doing the work to make the traditions happen. What everyone else loves about the holidays stresses me out the most (buying and wrapping presents, spending hours in the kitchen).

      Change is good for my sanity at Christmas. :)