How Do You Choose Your Holiday Traditions?


How Do Traditions Evolve?


Growing up as kids, we all had holiday traditions that went without question.  They were simply the way things had always been done.  One of my cherished activities centered around opening up the daily boxes on an Advent calendar—a tradition I continue with my own girls to this day.  

Once adulthood arrives, busy lives and commingling of families make it a challenge to keep up with all of our childhood expectations.  The passage of time can create circumstances that necessitate change.  For example, when kids grow up and let early beliefs fade, parents can elicit their support for the holidays—making them co-creators of the magic rather than just recipients.  Aging adults might find themselves without the energy to host huge gatherings, providing the next generation an opportunity to add a new twist to the celebrations.  

Instead of letting holiday activities unconsciously drift, we can consider how to introduce deliberate change.    Yet how do you decide which traditions to keep, which to let go, and which ones will make perfect additions?


But First…Why Are Traditions Important? 


In a world of constant changes and frantic busyness, traditions offer us an opportunity to slow down, center ourselves, and gain a clear perspective on what really matters.  Because of the connection to family and fond memories, they are often invested with strong emotions.  The sense of wonder, joy, and excitement from our own childhood holidays causes us to value those experiences and want to keep them alive.  

 Traditions also remind us of our shared community bonds, connecting families across generations while strengthening our broader cultural and religious histories.  More personally, these activities ground us in the stories that have shaped our lives, offering comfort and security during times of uncertainty.  


What Types of Challenges Have Your Traditions Faced?


One of the biggest challenges to holiday traditions occurs when families blend or change.  A wedding, a second marriage, a separation, or a newly empty nest can bring incompatible desires into conflict.  For example, if one person cherishes the experience of a traditional Christmas, but their partner’s family likes to vacation for the holidays, navigating a mutually acceptable solution could be quite stressful.    

For me, the hardest change to reconcile was my husband’s limited vacation time.  When I was a kid, our Christmas celebrations were an event…two days of eating and opening gifts with both sides of the family, in addition to an annual party with extended relatives soon afterwards.  After having our first child, moving half-way across the country, and realizing my husband would only have 2-3 days off during the holiday week, it became apparent that changes would have to be made.   We decided to start new traditions, and to celebrate with my relatives in the Spring, when we weren’t so pressed for time.  


Should You Question Your Traditions?


Sometimes we find ourselves doing the same things over and over, without giving them much thought.  Take a moment and think about how you spend your holidays.  

Are any of your traditions in conflict:

with your circumstances? 

with other significant people in your inner circle?

with your evolving sense of what’s right for your life?  

By definition, traditions are rooted in the past.  They include ways of thinking or acting that are passed down within a family or society over the years.  In many respects, traditions are beneficial and connection-building, but they are also living constructs designed to adapt and evolve with our lives.  

The experiences we repeat each year aren’t meant to build a wall against change.  Rather they exist to remind us of who we are and what we value.  It’s our choice to question holiday traditions.  Some will be worth preserving, others might require a bit of revision, and some might need to fade to fond memories.  


What Are Your Cherished Traditions?


Take a moment to consider the following aspects commonly associated with the holidays this time of year.  Which areas are most important to you and your family members?  



Often the earliest aspect of the holidays, which ushers in the joy of the season. 

  • A Tree—festively hung with ornaments, displaying our family’s history.
  • Christmas lights or Menorah candles twinkling in the darkness, which comes so early now.
  • Decorations, in every room of our home or each shop we visit, announcing this much celebrated time of year.
  • Children’s crafts, brought home from school, or made at the kitchen table with love.  



One of the most prevalent ways we celebrate, and often laden with memories and emotions.

  • Meals, with traditional dishes and expected family members around the table.
  • Recipes—sometimes passed down over generations, made with and for those we love.
  • Gifts—exchanging homemade favorites or leaving out something for Santa and his reindeer.



Reviving old ties and celebrating strong ones.

  • Holiday Parties, whether at work or at home, provide festive ways to share the joy with others in our lives.  
  • Holiday Cards—love them or not, this is how we often keep up with distant family and friends.
  • Religious Services may connect us to our faith and give a deeper meaning to our celebrations.   



The written and oral traditions we know by heart.

  • TV Specials—the ones you remember from watching as a kid…like Charlie Brown Christmas.  
  • Books—those you might read year after year, like The Night Before Christmas. What’s your favorite?  
  • Letters to Santa—a child’s honest wishes written down and mailed out with hope.
  • Bible stories—remembering how the holiday began.
  • Carols—invoking emotions and memories through music and song.  



Often over-emphasized, but still fun and meaningful when well-considered.

  • Shopping—a hectic process or a delightful event, depending on your perspective.
  • Secret Santa—providing excitement and wonder to another person.
  • A Yankee Swap—the New England way to exchange gifts without going to excess.
  • Charitable Donations—making a difference to those in need within your community.  


Family-Centered Traditions

Consider some examples of things that might be unique to those closest to you.

  • Matching Christmas pajamas
  • Sledding or making a snowman
  • A special activity shared by your family (such as creating or viewing colorful light displays).  


How Can You Create or Change Holiday Traditions?


Now that you’ve considered your favorite memories and experiences, let’s think about how to maximize your enjoyment of this fleeting time of year. 

First, ask yourself what you want this season to be about. 

What matters most to you?  

Maybe it’s an emphasis on faith, giving, and serving others.  Perhaps renewing relationships, if this is the only time when extended families can gather.  If you have young children, providing joy and wonder might be foremost on your list.  

Don’t judge your answers—they’re specific to you and there is nothing wrong or “less worthy” about what you choose.  

Next, consider what stressors you’d like to remove from the holidays.   

Does the overconsumption or lingering debt of years past make you cringe? 

Do travel plans create too much tension? 

Are there other, expected traditions that just aren’t bringing you joy?  

Finally, there’s one last question to help you find your Small Step… 

What could you change or simplify to let go of unneeded expenses or stress while still experiencing  the spirit of the season?


For me, the answers were easy.  I’ve been wrestling with sending out Christmas cards for years.  The rising costs of ordering them or purchasing printer ink aren’t trivial.   The time needed to stuff envelopes, address them, and mail everything brings a lot of added stress.  I’ve found myself wanting to spend my energy in other ways this holiday season.

However, I didn’t want to abandon the concept entirely.  I love receiving photos of family and friends, catching up on the excitement of lives that once intersected but are now separated by distance and overwhelming commitments.  Also, I actually enjoy making our cards…scrolling through the year’s pictures, reliving my girls’ accomplishments, and ultimately adding another memory to our family keepsakes.  

My Small Step solution?  Switch from print to electronic communication.  Some might say it’s not as personal, but I felt secretly thrilled with the compromise.  I can even share the labors of my time with more people, since I don’t have to worry about the cost of adding to my recipient’s list.  

In this digital age, I hope those who mean the most to me won’t be disappointed by having to check their email rather than the postal box.  However, tweaking my traditions has already made this joyful season a richer and more relaxed experience.  

And that’s what the holidays are meant to be about.  


What is one holiday tradition that you would like to tweak?  


  1. Anita Franz, OSF | 19th Dec 18

    Christina, you’ve touched upon an aspect of voluntary simplicity. A dearth of time and energy put a hiatus on my sending personal Christmas cards. Last year I posted my letter on Facebook, but I like your methodology and may try it this year. My biggest Christmas stressor is getting everything done by Christmas Day when, as Catholics, we celebrate and entire Christmas season. My goal is to get something posted by the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the end of the Christmas season. Another important reason for me to get away from paper Christmas cards is caring for our sister, Mother Earth. It’s not just the trees but also all of the water consumed in the paper making process.

    If my calculations are correct, we’ll be seeing one another next holiday season. I think it’s our turn to host the Courtney party. That means a litttle (ok,a lot) extra stress next Christmas. We’ll see what comes to pass next year.

    Praying God’s blessing upon your family during this holy Christmas Season.

    • Christine | 19th Dec 18

      A huge part of my decision to move to digital cards was so that I could enjoy the build up of seasonal joys. In the past, I would arrive at Christmas only to feel exhausted and let down that I’d missed so much while rushing around preparing for the holiday instead of celebrating its coming.

      I love the idea of using less paper and resources too, though. I think we all arrive at what works for us through different reasoning, but the most important thing is to let go of stress and be present during this special time of year. Merry Christmas!

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