Holiday Traditions: Out With The Old, In With The New

December 23, 2015

“You bring the Green Bean Casserole,” your mother tells you in a voice, a bit stressed, a bit annoyed sounding which is not unusual during the Holiday season.

“Why?” You say. Just as you did last year, and the year before, and the year before that. “Hardly any ever gets eaten and I throw most of it away.”

“It’s a tradition!” Your mother voice now is full of annoyance. Her tone is very clear. How can a child she raised to be so dense. It’s a tradition! We always did it that way.  And by golly, we always will. “It’s a tradition” says it all. End of discussion!

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Food on the table nobody really likes; gifts which have to be purchased, wrapped and given to people one hardly knows or cares about; families gather even though many a stomach ties into knots just thinking about the hours spent together – and the list goes on.

Right now, we are close to Christmas, which has become an event lasting several weeks inundated with all kinds of rites and traditions. We are decorating our houses inside and out; write endless cards to people on “the list”; buy lots of gifts, often more than we can afford. We attend and give parties featuring food that is delicious, but also full of fat and sugar, making it almost impossible to keep our waistlines where they are supposed to be. Oh well, that in itself is the cause for another great tradition: Joining a Gym at the beginning of the New Year and setting all kinds of good intentions – weight loss being one of the all time favorites.

Christmas and all that comes with it seems to have been adopted by people of many religions as a secular holiday – maybe to fit in, maybe because it is so much fun. But it is by no means the only holiday which can create stress to those participating, please insert whichever applies to your situation: Hanukah, Eid, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, various New Years, Birthdays and more.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who just loves everything associated with holidays and celebrations. If you are, good for you! But read on, maybe you’ll find something you might like to add as part of your festivities.

Every culture, every nation and almost every family has traditions which sometimes define them and often create a sense of belonging, identity and continuity. Some of those are practiced with great purpose and intentions, others are just adhered to without much awareness of their existence and their purpose. “It’s how it is done,” or “we always did it this way,” would be  possible answers to the question of “why?”

Traditions can be a wonderful thing, but, as the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson illustrates so eloquently, they can also have a negative impact or simply make no sense. If you fall into the camp of experiencing more stress than enjoyment, more “shoulds” and “musts” than “wants” while preparing and participating in a holiday, it is high time to reassess which of your family customs are in urgent need to be replaced.

In a recent Blab Conversation/podcast, we addressed the topic of creating a stress free holiday in some detail. One very good point Brad Rowland shared is to make sure to discuss a change of tradition with the rest of the stakeholders – be they family, friends, co-workers or members of your communities. Apparently, making unilateral changes does not go over very well.

As with any change, the first step is to find out the what and why. Now is a good time to become really aware of all the ways which are part of your celebrations. That could be certain foods; gathering in a particular place with a particular group of people; gift exchanges; watching a show together; having the yearly political debate – you get the picture.  Write them down.

Next, pay attention to how you feel. Are you excited and can hardly wait for (fill in the action) to happen, or, are you deep down wishing for any excuse to get out of it? Of course, there is anything from indifferent, to slightly annoyed, to finding it pleasant. Make yourself a scale. For example, 10 stands for super excited, 5 for neutral and 0 for absolutely hate it – the other numbers for your personal shades of feelings.

Assign a numbers to each and every one of the traditions you recognized as being part of you. Also write down the ones you are not practicing, but you think you should. Sometimes they are the ones causing the most stress.

Obviously, all the tens are keepers. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. The zeros on the other hand are calling for some serious attention. If there are several, it might be a good idea to choose only one to start with. The first question to ask oneself is why? Why is this particular rite stressing me out?

This could be simple: The whole family, all 30 of them, are gathering at my house every holiday and it is stressing me out because I have a lot of meal preparation, cleanup and no space to find solitude and quiet during that whole time.

The next question is a why – again. Why are we doing it this way?

Again, there could be a simple answer: We had/have the only house big enough for the whole family to fit. Or, our house is centrally located and the most convenient to get to.

Now, ask yourself: Does it have to be the way we always did it? Are there other options?

Most likely, there are an array of options to change any tradition which earned a rating below five or six. In this example, several options come to mind.

  • Some other family member might now have a big house as well and can be the host.
  • The family takes a cruise together.
  • The family goes camping together.
  • The gathering takes place at a vacation area – instead of a destination wedding, a destination christmas or other holiday.
  • Everybody comes to my town, but doesn’t stay at my house. Another house can be rented or several rooms and meals are eaten at a restaurant.
  • Meals are catered and a person responsible for clean up is hired.
  • The host rents him/herself a room to have a retreat area from the crowd.
  • Every family member takes a turn hosting the gathering and they arrange it according to their choice.

This is an excellent example of the importance of involving everybody concerned in making the change, from brainstorming to the implementation of the new ritual. Many minds will come up with brilliant ideas and even the nay-sayers have an easier time adjusting to a change if they had a chance to participate in the decision making.

However, change does not always have to be the result of soul-searching, discussions and coming up with solutions. Sometimes, magic just happens when people gather in joy.  A new tradition is born because it was so much fun the first time it came about! This happened for Brad Rowland. Here are the ingredients: A guitar and a player, several singers and a camera. Please enjoy Brad and his nieces performing Be Thou My Vision, a poem first recorded in “Old Irish Celtic” in the 6th century.

Check back soon for this year’s performance and video.

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