5 Holiday Traditions You Should Absolutely Break

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.

4. Over-decorating

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.

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Photo courtesy of Atlanta Ballet

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 6 comments

I think i’m on top of most of them….but no. 3 is my nemesis, always, in life in general! Working on that one 🙂

Balroop Singh

Hi Barrie

I agree so much with you on all five points you have handled so well to break age old traditions. While traditions remind us of old bondings and keep us together but they should be discarded when they become a burden. What is the fun of celebrations if you overspend, get tired by the time actual celebrations start and then drink too much and face the consequences next morning!!

Thanks for sharing the unique traditions of your home! I enjoyed reading about them!

Meg Cox

I agree completely and thought this was a terrific post. And thanks for mentioning my book, The Book of New Family Tradition. Did you know the expanded, revised edition just came out in 2012? I’m going to link to this post on my FB page, http://www.facebook.com/TraditionsBook.
Merry Christmas to you and yours,

Larry Hochman

Gooooooooood traditions to break, Barrie! 🙂

The past couple of years, as our daughters entered young adulthood we abandoned the tradition of trying to surprise people gifts they love. That goes for gift giving between my wife and me. Instead we take a walk around some of her favorite shopping areas – sometimes before Xmas, sometimes after – and find things she’d like. Then we often get them together after they are on clearance. Everyone’s happy and no one’s disappointed.

This year, there’s a rumor going around I’m getting socks. Cool ones. That’s perfect…there’s really nothing else I want.

Oh yeah…one great tradition we keep…we always listen to the Prairie Home Companion Christmas special the Saturday night before while feasting on finger foods. 🙂


Overeating is the one that usually happens in my family. At Christmas we usually end up to start eating at 12 am and finish at 10 pm. Christmas is awesome because you spend a lot of time with your family and the people you love but you really need to be very disciplined and learn to say no. I’ve also stopped eating meat so I’m gonna see what happens this Christmas with all my relatives! 😀


One holiday event many forget to change is who goes where for Christmas. There were 15 in my family and for many years the “tradition” was to go to my parents for Christmas. Then I moved to another state, which made it harder to visit. After I was married, my wife and I moved 1800 miles away so visiting at Christmas was next to impossible. We developed our own traditions. Many of my siblings continued to go to my parents house for Christmas, even when they had families of their own. When my mother was in her mid sixty’s she decided she was getting too old to prepare such large meals for everyone. Then all started sharing and bringing food as in the old fashioned pot-luck dinner.
This worked well for a number of years but when the number of attendees grew to over 50 adults and children, my parents finally “suggested” each family needed to host their own Christmas celebration. Then my mother and father downsized to just a few people for Christmas. People came to visit, but not until later in the day. For the ten years prior to my mother’s death in 89th year, she hosted a soup dinner on New Year’s to which everyone was invited and asked to contribute something.
My parents are no longer alive, but one of my nieces has taken up the tradition of hosting a Soup Dinner on New Years Day. She invites all to come and to bring something. Not all my siblings nor nieces or nephews attend, but the invitation is open to almost all. (Several are not invited since they will cause problems and no one needs “drama” to start the New Year.)
None of my children are married but two live in different states. We may not be together, but we do share a phone conversation sometime during Christmas. We also communicate weekly via Facebook and email. Thus we have developed our own traditions to work with changes in lifestyle and culture. One tradition we all share is to get together in the summer (when the weather is much warmer and snow is not likely) to go camping and fishing in one of our State Parks.
Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to all and enjoy your coming New Year.


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