The holiday season is all about traditions.
Every family has their own.
We have a tradition in our house that the kids get pajamas every year for Christmas, and they always open them Christmas Eve to sleep in that night. Since my daughters are dancers, going to their Nutcracker performances has always been part of our holiday tradition. And before any kids can run downstairs to open gifts, the tree lights must be turned on, the holiday music is playing, and of course the coffee is brewing.
Traditions are valuable, especially during the holidays when family and friends come together more often. They provide a sense of comfort and security because you know what to expect and can count on the familiar activities and celebrations you've enjoyed year after year.
They often provide a reason to strengthen bonds and bring families closer together for a holiday meal, gift opening, or a religious service. And they afford a sense of belonging and community, because you participate with a larger group in common rituals. And of course holiday traditions create great memories and can influence the younger generation to pass down traditions to their own children.
According to Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day, “To me, family ritual is practically any activity you purposely repeat together as a family that includes a heightened attentiveness, and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.” And she further explains that traditions should be formed around what matters most to a family, based on the family's core values and filled with joy and love. Traditions should make all members of the family feel included and valued.
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” ~Laura Ingalls Wilder
But are all holiday traditions healthy and valuable? Are there some traditions in your family that have been perpetuated simply because they've happened year after year? If you peer in the window of any family home during the holidays, you're likely to see some rituals that have worn out their welcome or that should be re-packaged.
As families change and evolve, as children grow, if death or divorce occurs, as interpersonal dynamics or life priorities shift, it benefits everyone in the family to examine holiday traditions to decide which ones should be broken and perhaps what new traditions might be established.
Here are 5 holiday traditions you should consider breaking:
1. Spending too much on gifts
It's hard not to feel pressured to spend a lot of money on gift-giving. Commercialism is all around us. There's pressure to get something for everyone who has given you something or to make sure no one is disappointed with the quantity of wrapped presents under the tree. If we have certain traditions around the quality and quantity of holiday gifts, it's hard to go backward, to cut back on spending. But perhaps a new tradition of mindful and meaningful giving could be established with a family budget that's reasonable. It takes the financial pressure off and puts more emphasis on traditions of togetherness rather than stuff.
2. Eating and drinking too much
Holiday meals are a big part of family traditions, as well as the preparation of sweets in the weeks leading up to the big day. We attend holiday events and parties where we tend to eat and drink mindlessly. All of the rich food and alcohol can make us sluggish and gain weight. What about a new tradition of preparing healthy and nutritious meals during this season of “light”? Just because grandma served up spiked eggnog, dressing and gravy, and pecan pie, doesn't mean it must be your fallback holiday dinner.
3. Rushing around
When my kids were smaller, I felt the need to book the weeks leading up to Christmas with every possible holiday event and festivity. We'd go to the holiday parade, the Teddy Bear Tea Party, a visit with Santa, The Festival of Lights, a Christmas concert, the Nutcracker, and various school events — not to mention the adult parties and get-togethers. And this was on top of shopping, decorating, and cooking. By the end of December, I was ready to collapse. I wanted my family to enjoy all of the beauty of the season, but it was creating as much stress as it was joy. In more recent, years, I've intentionally kept the few weekends before Christmas free from big events so we can simply enjoy time together.
I love looking at beautifully decorated homes during the holiday season. But there are some homes that look like they should be on the Las Vegas strip, festooned with so many lights, blow-up figures, wreathes on every door and window, and two or more Christmas trees shining from various parts of the house. Aside from the expense of this decor, the time and energy it takes to put it up and then take it back down after the holiday is over is extraordinary. Christmas decorating isn't a competition. It's just one small part of a celebration. We're driven to create show homes because of the assortment of decor enticing us in the stores and advertising. So we feel obliged and pressured to go over the top.
5. Expecting perfection
The holiday season is a magical time, and often as we plan and prepare for family events and traditions, we envision the perfect Norman Rockwell scene complete with happy, smiling faces and no complications. But life rarely accommodates us this way. Families and people are complicated. Some people experience holiday sadness. Family members let us down by not showing up or behaving badly. Life events, illness, or changing priorities make some traditions impossible to maintain. The key to enjoying the holidays is flexibility, going with the flow, and managing expectations. The “perfect” holiday doesn't often happen. But a perfectly good holiday can be the norm if you stay open to new traditions.
When you don't put pressure on yourself or others to do “too much” of anything at the holidays, you will have the time and energy to enjoy the best holiday traditions — time for yourself, time with your loved ones, and time to celebrate what the holidays mean to you and your family. Release some of the draining, unnecessary, or outdated traditions to make room for traditions that reflect the values and ideals of who you are today.
What holiday traditions are most important to you? What traditions have you had to alter or release, and how did you feel about it? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Ballet