I read that somewhat jarring statement not long ago, and something about it stayed with me.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about traditions lately. It is, of course, the tradition-heavy time of year, when a lot of what we eat and buy and do is dictated by what we’ve always eaten and bought and done, and what our parents and grandparents ate and bought and did. Often, that’s a very good thing, filled with nostalgia and a meaningful connection to the past.
But not always. I’ve also been doing some honest evaluation of why I do what I do when it comes to the holidays. Some of this comes from the fact that, for a variety of reasons, the holidays are just my kids, my husband and myself this year. For just us, what do we really need? To that end, what do we really even truly want? What am I doing because it is meaningful and joyful, and how much of it is just what’s always been done?
We hear so much this time of year about how busy and stressed everybody is, and I think a lot of that comes from trying to recreate the past rather than creating a new present. Part of the joy of getting older and establishing your own family is that you get to decide how to celebrate. If you give yourself permission, you can let go of “have to.”
Let’s do a thought experiment. Try imagining a perfect holiday. It can be any one you’d like – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, whatever. Who are you with? Where do you go? What do you eat? Now … how close is that to what you actually do? What would you get rid of if you let go of obligations and focused on what is truly meaningful?
The overall point, of course, is to maximize joy. If making the rolls in the exact way your grandmother did it brings you joy, then by all means do it. If it feels like an obligation, skip it. I know that if I’m fortunate enough to have grandchildren, I don’t want them waking up on Christmas morning decades from now complaining that they have to make sweet potatoes a certain way because that’s the way I did it. I want my children and theoretical grandchildren to eat and make and do whatever makes them happiest, whether or not it’s what I ate and made and did. I want them to grow up and establish their own traditions, taking with them their most joyful memories.
Traditions can be wonderful parts of our celebrations, but they shouldn’t add pressure to an already busy time of year. I hope that as they get older, my children can look forward to holidays, knowing that however they choose to celebrate is exactly how they’re “supposed to” celebrate. Creating a joyful holiday for your family exactly as it is right now is the only tradition that really matters.
I wish you and yours the happiest holidays and a beautiful new year!
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