A few weeks ago, as my daughter was helping me put away her birthday decorations so that we could hang up the Halloween decorations, I made the suggestion that we move a few things and try something new.
She retorted, horrified, “We can't do it that way! That's not our tradition!” Have you ever considered how traditions come into being?
Traditions begin with a desire to mark an occasion. We take action. The action is well-received and feels right. So we do it again. It becomes a ritual. We repeat the ritual, and the action becomes how we mark a season or significant event. Over time, the ritual morphs into a tradition, and traditions, as I learned with my daughter, can become set in stone.
Sometimes traditions are the right choice at the right time. Take birthdays in our home, for example. We gather family for a special dinner on the literal birthday (never early or late), and the birthday boy or girl gets to choose the menu, no holds barred. We gather, we eat, we sing, and we end with everyone telling the honoree what they love about them. The tradition is beautiful, and I love it.
Sometimes traditions become drudgery. Take Elf On The Shelf, for example. We were gifted an Elf by a family member in front of our children, and with no where to hide, we embraced the Elf, named him, brought him into our home, and became slave to the expectation of moving that damn doll every night for a month. The idea of stopping this “tradition” in the early years of our family, when all of our children were young, was unthinkable to them. Sigh. Fine, we will keep the tradition of Elf On The Shelf, but the second that our youngest was beyond the age of believing the elf flew to the north pole every night, we were done with the elf and never looked back.
I mention all of this for two reasons. First, be careful what you begin. Holidays and special occasions are abundant and each require their own set of tasks. In the beginning, full of energy and desire to do it all, we can fall into the trap of biting off more than we can sustain for twenty years. It is ok to be judicious and intentional with how you choose to spend your limited resources of time, money, and energy. You do not have to do it all.
Second, when a set of actions no longer serves you, when you feel slave to the tradition, it's time to evaluate its merit in your home. Doing things for the sake of doing them is not a big deal when you are talking about an elf who will obviously not become a part of your long term family lore. But doing things out of a sense of obligation is not the heart of celebration. Traditions should enhance your enjoyment of a certain season, bringing a spark of joy and delight as you engage in them.
Where do you find yourself in relation to your traditions? Which ones serve and delight? Which ones are tired and feel like drudgery? Maybe it's time to cull through our collection of seasonal activities and fully commit to the ones that we love and let go of the ones that we dread.
True, some tradition auditing is out of our control, but engaging in the exercise of examining our traditions both as they unfold and as we continue them is a way to preserve what matters most to us during the holidays.
"Last week I made a batch of Jessica's Game Day Beer Chili, and today I am insisting that you add this recipe to your cold-weather dinner line up. Game Day Bear Chili is hearty, sweet, smoky, thick, and different in a way that inspired me to share it with you today. ."
image via howsweeteats.com
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