Sunday, December 16, 2018

Changing Family Traditions for the Better

I love family traditions.  They’re unique to each family, and they bond us to each other. Sometimes it isn’t until we’re older that we realize there are other ways to celebrate.  It’s also not until we talk to each other that we realize traditions we love may not be universally liked.  
Throughout my youth, Santa always included an orange in the toe of my Christmas stocking.  As an adult, I feel like the holiday is incomplete if my goodies are missing the orange.  When I peel the fruit and eat it among chocolates and candies, I feel connected to my parents and our Christmas morning celebrations from decades past.  I told my sister this a few years ago, and I learned she didn’t share my fondness.  She not only disliked it, she had a passionate resentment that produce took up valuable real estate in her stocking.  As an adult, Santa accommodates her distaste for it by leaving a chocolate orange instead.  The fact that she still receives a type of orange in her stocking reveals an appreciation for tradition with a creative adaptation to the portion of it that didn’t bring her joy.  I think this perfectly showcases an approach we can use when family customs or expectations start causing us stress.
A common challenge during the holidays is accommodating seeing all of the people in our lives we care about.  With evolving families and distance, it can become impossible to continue them without someone feeling slighted or stressed. With age and health issues, our endurance to do and participate in all we’ve done in the past may no longer be feasible.  I think this creates perfect opportunities to shape our family traditions in ways that please us.  At a minimum we can attempt to satisfy our needs and accommodate our health.  Being flexible offers increased opportunities to connect with people we care about.   
Some friends and family members will be disappointed when they no longer can expect your attendance as they have in the past. Hopefully they can be disappointed without anger or resentment.  I try not to be one of those people who cause others to feel bad.  My mantra is “invitation not expectation.”  I’ll invite loved ones to get together at times that are convenient for all of us.  If we can’t get together in December, we’ll make it happen in the new year. If I expect them to sacrifice to a point of personal detriment, we’ve lost the purpose and joy of the season. It’s not neglect or martyrdom on my end; I think of it as leading by example.  With my health issues, I need to accommodate my energy level and life obligations.  I hope they’ll appreciate my inability to do everything is not for lack of love.  I hope they’ll also be responsible for their own health and well-being.
I try to find alternative ways to celebrate and preserve the core of our family traditions.  I consider the holidays as an extended weeks long celebration. Celebrating in person the weekend before or after the actual holiday can be less stressful for everyone.  We’ve alternated years to celebrate holidays with each side of the family.  Giving plenty of notice so everyone can plan and look forward to “their year’s celebration” helps soften the blow.  In off years, opening presents by video chat can be pretty special.  If I won’t see them in person on the actual holiday, calling or texting helps keep us feeling connected and loved.  
Reminiscing is one of the best ways to connect family generations and glean the seed of family traditions. Sharing stories and memories that siblings may have forgotten can bring forth bursts of joy.  Disclosures of the “rest of the story” can bring revelations possible now that time and age have changed our family dynamics.  Some stories are cherished as we reminisce about those that have passed away.  These stories are especially perfect for sharing with younger members who weren’t afforded as much time with those loved ones.  
Traditions can be great, but when life changes they might not serve us anymore. When they become burdensome or obligations leading to stress or resentment, it kills the joy. If conflict results, it’s worth finding the core feeling or connection from that tradition that’s worth preserving. It helps to be intentional about what we choose to continue as is, what can be adapted and what can be lost for good reason.  Our unique family traditions bond us to each other, and being a part of creating new traditions can strengthen family relations.  It’s worth the effort.