I am fascinated by traditions. We all have them — family traditions, cultural traditions, and traditions of faith. There are old traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation, and new traditions that have been created from merging families, or simply by chance or creativity.
Traditions give us a feeling of comfort; something we can rely on, expect, something that somehow helps us feel safe and happy. So it is no wonder, given the world we currently live in, that most of us cling to our traditions. Some hold on so tightly that they will never deviate from “how we have always done it.” Others are open to adjustments and variations over time.
This time of year of course allows us to experience each others’ colorful traditions and swap stories. During the holidays, we have activities, events and actions that we do with a feeling of purpose — no matter how small. At a recent holiday dinner party, we each shared a favorite tradition — one person talked about baking an army of gingerbread men each year; another spoke of spreading reindeer food with her children; another told of setting off fireworks on Christmas Eve. The traditions were as varied as the people, yet it was easy to see how important each of these activities were to all of us.
Certainly, how we choose to decorate our homes is one of the most noticeable traditions. There are the Griswold families who become famous in their neighborhoods for lighting up the night sky each year, and there are the ardent New Englanders with our traditional white-candles-in-the-windows with a spot light on the front door wreath. As for us personally, there are certain decor traditions we follow…I always create a scene of angels over the crèche, just like my mom did. And my husband started a new tradition of outdoor lights around the pool fence, and a lit star that he hangs from the second floor of his workshop. Sometimes we live life on the edge and try variations. For example, since I was a child, stockings were hung on Christmas Eve. This year we decided to hang them a day or two early because they look cute and festive. Yup, we are Christmas rebels for sure.
Of course, the majority of our traditions have to do with the people in our lives, spending time together, and experiencing our faith activities. In our family, we prefer to stay home for Christmas — we may travel for Thanksgiving and shortly after the New Year to see relatives, but Christmas itself for us means time to just relax and be together without the rushing and travel time. For others though, the holiday is about visiting family at other homes, in different towns, and sometimes fitting in 2 or 3 visits in one day.
Each year of course there can be unexpected changes to even the best laid plans, but for the most part, as Christmas approaches, I start to feel my body and soul relax. I can take comfort in knowing that, for example, tonight on Christmas Eve, we will go to Church to experience the Pageant, and this year watch our son take part as one of the Three Kings. He has grown up with this church, and has had roles as a sheep, a shepherd, and a narrator — so there is something bittersweet about him now being old enough to portray a Wise Man. I know that I will cry when we sing Silent Night by candlelight. I know that we will eat fun yet unhealthy snack foods for dinner, followed by cookies. I know we will have fun getting together with our extended family of friends next door after the service for cheer and gift exchange. And I know that Christmas morning we will put on Christmas music, drink cocoa and hang out in our jammies while we open some gifts and just be together. Having those expectations, and knowing we will follow through with our traditions, is not at all boring. It is warm, it is wonderful, and it is healing.
To all of you Real Women and Real Families out there… no matter what your traditions are — whether passed down from your ancestors, or a new activity you have created yourself, enjoy. Allow yourself to take comfort and joy in the familiar. And above all, especially now, allow yourself to feel at Peace.