There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.
In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays. I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.
My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation. It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.
Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday. What do I really want for them? I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.
So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.
This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too. A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.
Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift. The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.
Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously. I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat? Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.
We all have traditions whether we realize it or not. Religions give us many of our traditions. My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so. Traditions can also be unique to each family.
In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight. By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night. We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations. It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month. (Or almost every month?)
Traditions can be simple daily exercises. Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me). Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.
And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging. I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.
This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us. I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.
What are your traditions? Old or new? I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own. Please leave me a comment. And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.
Note: This column was first printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011. You can also view it online here.