How To Let Go Of Old Traditions During The Holidays

As we get older, we often find less is more. We may not decorate the house to the extent we did when the children were younger. And if the tree isn't decorated quite the way it always was, so be it.
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Let's face it, it's hard to let go of the old traditions. We established them and they worked for so many years. But the time comes when our children need to establish traditions of their own. It's one of the best gifts we can give our children and grandchildren. After all, why should our tradition be the only one that should be observed? It may have worked for us for years, but what about our new in-laws? And what about blended families? If you insist on doing things as you always have, often it's going to offend someone who's struggling to establish their own traditions.

Our grandson's birthday fell on Thanksgiving this year. He wanted chicken drumsticks, guacamole, and mo-mo's (yeah, who knew?). A balanced healthy meal? Probably not. A change in years of turkey tradition? Yes. But allowing him to feel special on his birthday and have what he wanted to eat trumped tradition. So we had the turkey and all the trimmings a few days later. And it was as good as it's always been, just a little different!

We have what would probably be considered a "modern" family by today's standards. Religious preferences include Catholic, Episcopal, Buddhist, Muslim, and atheist. Lifestyles include straight and lesbian. Politics includes Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and some who have washed their hands of the whole political process. Ages range from 72 to 4. Degrees range from a high school diploma to a Masters in Law. There is no way one tradition would work for all of the family members. One size fits all? Think not!

We can get so locked into traditions that we forget what's the most important thing of all during holiday seasons -- being with loved ones. The first time my husband and I visited our son and daughter-in-law for Thanksgiving in Seattle, we ate Thanksgiving Dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon. When I was a child and later when everyone came to our house for Thanksgiving Dinner we ate at 6:00. It was a change and yet one we really enjoyed. There was even time to digest the huge dinner before we went to bed. Actually, we probably felt a lot better for having eaten earlier.

Christmas presents another challenge. As we get older, we often find less is more. We may not decorate the house to the extent we did when the children were younger. And if the tree isn't decorated quite the way it always was, so be it. I remember my first Christmas as a bride in California celebrating the day with my husband's family. Their tradition was to have the Christmas gift giving on Christmas Eve. The horror of it! My family had always celebrated Christmas gift-giving on Christmas Day and surely that was the way it was supposed to be. What were they thinking? I can even remember having some rather uncharitable thoughts about my mother-in-law -- that maybe she didn't want the mess of wrapping paper and bows to interfere with the Christmas feast she was preparing. So my husband and I compromised. We decided to start our own tradition of exchanging one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest of the gifts on Christmas Day.

Now that's changed as our children formed their own traditions. Our son and his wife don't exchange big Christmas presents, but they spend time and money filling each other's stockings. My daughter and her family come to our house on Christmas Eve for gift exchanges and dinner. Christmas Day they and the children have made a tradition of spending a lazy day, letting the children enjoy all of their new gifts. And truth be, rather imagine the children enjoy it more than they would having to get dressed up to go to dinner at the grandparents' home and eating Christmas dinner with people they didn't even know. We've always asked whoever didn't have a place to land on Christmas to come to our home for dinner.

The traditions we've established were probably done so for a good reason. But have we become rigid about sticking with these traditions? And really, what's to be gained from insisting on observing a tradition which has become obsolete, but a lot of animosity from in-laws? New situations demand that new traditions be established. Often children have several sets of parents, step-parents, in-laws, etc. Trying to please all of them can be a nightmare. Not only that, a day that should be joyous becomes stress-filled, often to the point where people dread it. Those who can, often travel to warm weather destinations. I suspect it's not only for the warn weather, but an avoidance of family conflicts. A friend of mine with a blended family wanted to have everyone come to her ho,e for Thanksgiving and establish that tradition. It didn't work. Her son-in-law wanted to spend the day with his parents. Her husband's son wanted to spend the day with his mother. Her husband wanted to spend the day with his cousin. And on and on. Fortunately, she was gracious enough to recognize that by trying to insist that Thanksgiving be spent at her house, she would alienate just about everyone in her family. The price was too high!

Bottom line. Embrace changing traditions. You might even find that you enjoy them!

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