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The holidays are here! And along with that comes all those holiday traditions, the things that you do every year (whether you want to or not). But why? Why do we have these traditions in the first place? Learn more about the reasons we have traditions and how to create your own traditions.
(Tiny disclaimer – I’m writing this mostly with Christmas and New Year celebrations in mind. This post is definitely not intended to be in any way exclusionary, but simply because that’s what I personally know and celebrate, so I don’t feel qualified to speak on other holidays. I love to learn though, so if you’d like to drop your non-Christmas traditions in the comments below, I would love to read them!)
What is a tradition
Let’s back up a little bit. What is a tradition, really? Since I always love a good dictionary definition, Merriam-Webster says a tradition is “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom)”
Okay. That’s a lot, so let’s break it down a little bit. Traditions can be on a large scale, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or the many people who put up a Christmas tree each year. Or on a very small scale, like your family always eating crab legs on Christmas Eve. Traditions aren’t limited to the holidays, but they do seem to take on greater importance during those special times of the year.
And while there are some traditions that are a little more universal (like all those Christmas trees), some of the most meaningful are the small traditions that you create within your own family or group of friends.
I was listening to a podcast by The Hygge Girls the other day (If you haven’t listened, it’s a very sweet and informative little podcast – check it out!) and one of the hosts mentioned a family tradition where mom buys everyone new PJs to wear on Thanksgiving evening while they watch Christmas movies together. A great tradition, but PART of the tradition is pretending it’s a surprise, even though they’ve been doing this for years. And I love that!
That’s the kind of thing that instills a feeling of belonging and security. You know it’s going to happen, you expect it to happen, and it does happen, every year, without fail.
Traditions: When to keep them and when to change them
Traditions ARE important. But oftentimes, it’s less about what the tradition actually IS and more about creating that sense of belonging and security. You don’t have to wonder how a certain celebration is going to unfold, because the “plan” is already in place.
Traditions build that sense of belonging by making us feel like we’re part of a community or group. They can bring a sense of security to life, because when you have your traditions, you also have your “people”. And those traditions unique to you and your family are something that potentially no one else does exactly the same way, building up that family unit.
So, should traditions ever change?
The quick answer is…sometimes. Life changes. Situations change. Sometimes traditions become impractical or impossible. Sometimes we outgrow them or our current situations prevent them. (Hello, covid… )
The first few years of marriage are a great example of those life changes. Each person comes into the relationship with their own family traditions…and more likely than not, some will have to be adjusted, changed, or completely replaced. One partner may have grown up opening gifts on Christmas Eve, while the other spent their entire childhood waiting until after Christmas Day dinner was finished and the dishes were put away. You can’t do both, so you either have to pick one or create your own. And that’s a perfect opportunity to create new traditions that are unique to YOU.
Sometimes it’s unfortunate, but have to be willing to let some traditions go, when the time is right. And yeah, it can be sad. Something that has been a longstanding part of your life won’t happen the same way anymore. But that’s also part of growth, change, and acceptance. You’ll always have those memories AND you’ll also have a basis for creating a new tradition.
Traditions can also become rote and a chore, instead of a meaningful enjoyable experience. Are your traditions still bringing you joy? If not, it might be time to let them go…maybe for a little while, maybe permanently. You might find that by letting a tradition go, you feel like a weight has been lifted. Or you might decide that you miss it and want to bring it back. When you do, it may regain its place as an enjoyable part of your life instead of something to just put up with.
Sometimes, traditions just need to be put on pause. Circumstances during a particular time in your life may dictate that you simply CAN’T uphold a longstanding tradition. And that’s okay too. Even if you break tradition, you can ALWAYS come back to it later, recreate it, or even update it a little bit.
The main thing I would like you to get out of reading this is: YOU HAVE PERMISSION – It’s okay to keep a tradition going. It’s okay to change them. It’s even okay to make a tradition of doing things a little different each year! It’s not okay to feel trapped by traditions, simply because they’re…well…tradition. Or to feel completely lost when life forces you to change a tradition.
How to create your own traditions
If it’s time to create a new tradition, if your life has changed permanently (or just for now) here are a few ideas to get you started:
Take inspiration from things you already do
Maybe you always celebrate with your family, but you can’t be together this year – you can still take the parts of that celebration you love and adjust them. Make the traditional dinner, but make it smaller and add a few new fun dishes. Put on your Christmas PJs and sleep next to the tree. Buy a bottle of champagne to pop open at home at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Think about the things you normally enjoy and shift them just a little bit to fit.
Choose the parts you enjoy and leave the rest behind
If your normal traditions feel like more of a chore than a celebration, only keep the parts you love! There’s no rule that says it’s all or nothing. It can be something simple, like switching from multicolored tree lights to all white. Or something bigger like deciding to spend the holidays at home instead of traveling across the country.
Decide who you want to involve
Big family traditions are great. But you can also make traditions with a friend group – like Friendsgiving – or just between you and your partner.
Don’t just create a new tradition to have one – be intentional about it. Think about WHY you want something to become a new tradition, or why you don’t…
Look into traditions around the world
Just because you’ve always celebrated a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the only way. There are so many interesting traditions around the world! For example, one I would love to try is from Iceland. Jolabokaflod – which loosely translates to Christmas Book Flood – is a Christmas Eve tradition that involves gifting books and then spending the rest of the evening reading and drinking hot chocolate! That just sounds like the coziest thing to me!
This book has some great ideas if you’re interested in exploring traditions around the world.
So whether you’re changing the traditional way you celebrate or keeping the old traditions alive, I want you to know that both options are okay. Enjoy the holidays, no matter how you choose to celebrate them!