When is it time to move beyond “tradition”

For a while you and your spouse enjoyed the Christmas holidays at your parents-first at one set of in-laws, then the other-usually both on Christmas Day. It didn’t matter that the two of you were loading up gifts and rushing from one house to another. The important issue was to spend equal time at both homes-and not offend either set of parents. (Pity those poor young couples who had divorced or separated parents and had four different homes beckoning, sometimes demanding, their attendance.)

Then came the baby, then the babies-and celebrating the day became even more complicated. The gifts and paraphernalia to transport increased, but the size of the vehicle didn’t. In-law demands and expectations didn’t shift, but happy attitudes certainly did. What was once a look-forward-to experience became a dreaded, hassle-filled expedition.

When time and emotions are stretched beyond the breaking point, something (or someone) has to give. Maybe what has to give is the understanding of “tradition.”

Memories of having the family together and each opening “just-what-I-wanted” presents is a Rockwellian concept that most savor-or at least dream of. But who actually remembers what gifts were exchanged? Aren’t the warm memories usually of feelings-stability, appreciation, consideration, encouragement, gratitude, love? Remember when you gave me that huge gray sweater, and I couldn’t sincerely say thank you? I felt awkward and you knew it. You quickly told me that you just picked up the first sweater you saw and hoped I’d return it for the one I wanted. You really understood. Thanks.?

The question then becomes, is creating a positive memory a better tradition to establish than having a family assembly on a specific day? Is watching your children excitedly play with their new toys of more lasting value than getting your green bean casserole to Mom and Dad’s house on time?

How and when do you establish your new, personal tradition that accommodates your family’s schedule? When the stress of meeting others’ expectations is taking a toll on your personal sanity, it’s time to reconsider what is really important in your life. When you face the facts that everyone is not always going to be happy with your decisions and pleasing others is an unattainable goal, you are finally ready to decide what is best for you and your family.

Have at it. Pick a day when you can celebrate with your extended family and enjoy that day. It may be a day or two before (or after) Christmas. Whichever day you choose, remember the positive events of that day. Create your own new traditions with activities that you can annually enjoy with your children and your children’s children. (Caution: When your children want to take off with some of their own traditions many years from now, remember how freeing it was when you left the have-tos and ought-tos imposed by your family.)

As you plan your holiday celebration, keep the tradition of warm memories and feel-good activities. Look at the pictures of people who were genuinely appreciative and getting along with each other. And enjoy those days (not just one particular day) when Christmas was truly celebrated.

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