Kay called yesterday. Stressed about the impending holiday season, she complained, "I'm planning that darn Christmas Eve dinner." She is experiencing this once welcomed tradition as a dreaded event. "Can you change traditions?" She asked.
The tradition began when her mother married. Since her husband's family gathered on Christmas Day, she created the Christmas Eve dinner as a special way to celebrate with her family. Over the years, as children married and moved away, the value of the event grew into the highlight of the year! When her mother died, Kay happily took over the tradition and enjoyed preparing the celebration for many years.
Today, Kay's children and grandchildren gather at this traditional event. The difference is that they all live nearby and see one another weekly. The original meaning of the Christmas Eve dinner changed. It no longer represents drawing people together one day a year with anticipation and excitement. Now it is one more chore, a sign that the tradition needs updating.
A newly recovering alcoholic client called me in a panic a few years back. She was concerned about relapsing over mounting holiday stress. The biggest upset was that she would not be able to finish making handmade ornaments, which had become a tradition. She started late due to time in treatment.
"What's really important about them?" I asked. After thinking a minute she said, "They show each person how much I really care about them." Tears welled up as she realized that relapsing would send the opposite message. Then, the light went on! "I sent the ornaments to avoid seeing them." With this awareness, she changed the tradition. She enclosed a poem in gift boxes inviting each person to select a special time to be together with her in the next year for a meal, shopping, etc. Over the years, this has become a welcomed tradition.
This is true in the workplace too. I remember the annual cookie exchange. Each person would bring their best cookie to exchange and everyone went home with a fabulous assortment of traditional homemade favorites. One year we realized that most of us exchanged the local bakery's cookies. The meaning of the tradition had changed. It was time for a new tradition, one that enhanced our working relationship without making unnecessary demands upon it.
As this holiday season approaches filled with past traditions and rituals, take time to reevaluate the meaning of your traditions. Are they still providing the original meaning? Is a tradition creating more stress than value? Is there another way to convey meaning that would be simpler or more effective? If it's significant, maintain it. If it has lost its purpose or meaning, create a new one.
Talking about meaningless traditions reminds me of a story about a young newlywed making the traditional family roast for the first time. As she is about to cut the ends off the roast she asks, "Mother, why are the ends cut off the roast?" Her mother replied, "That's how my mother taught me to do it."
Becoming more curious, she called her grandmother with the same query. "Why is it important to cut the ends off the roast?" Her grandmother said, "That's what my mother did."
More intent than ever, she approached her great grandmother at the nursing home, "Grandma, why do you cut the ends off the roast before cooking?" The elderly woman answered slowly, "Well dear, the pan I had was just a little too small for the roast, so I cut off the ends to make it fit."
Traditions are born of historical choices. We feel bound to keep up the fondly remembered act, even though its meaning has long gone.
When there's too much too do with too little time; it is vital to scrutinize every activity in terms of the value it adds to your life. Time-honored traditions are no exception.
Traditions, rituals and ceremonies add beauty and meaning to our lives. They provide depth to our experiences. However, a tradition without meaning can be counterproductive. It can inspire resentment, anger and frustration at its unreasonable demand for compliance.
One way to fulfill your quest for meaning, joy and peace this holiday season is to evaluate and create meaningful and simple traditions that are easy to maintain and truly serve their purpose.
May you have a happy, meaningful holiday season!
© Aila Accad