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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most prevalent ways we celebrate, and often laden with memories and emotions.
Reviving old ties and celebrating strong ones.
The written and oral traditions we know by heart.
Often over-emphasized, but still fun and meaningful when well-considered.
Consider some examples of things that might be unique to those closest to you.
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?