Question Your Traditions
We were watching Olaf’s Frozen Adventure the other day, and it struck me as the snowman broke out into song. He belted his desire to find the best holiday traditions while knocking on everyone’s door in Arendelle to ask them about theirs. What ensued was a madcap musical number of Disney proportions, and a whole lot of different ideas for traditions.
Every community has its own traditions, and the holiday time is a common setting for them. It’s also a common time for stress and overwhelm. Some people experience sadness and loneliness, even despite not being alone.
Maybe you may feel empty, ashamed, or like an impostor, all because you’re keeping up an appearance that no longer fits you. Either that, or you see other people with some sort of life you feel you should be living – because you’ve come to believe that’s what the holidays are about.
You can’t be alone on the holidays.
You can’t not be “at home” for the holidays.
You can’t not have a tree or decorations.
You can’t reject the typical narrative of a jolly fat man sliding down your chimney at midnight.
At their core, the holidays are about gratitude and community, faith and family. But communities (and families) are fluid and ever-changing. In The Art of Community, Charles Vogl wrote, “A dynamic community needs dynamic growth in its rituals.” Hang on too tightly to certain things, and you might find them lacking the meaning they once had.
Christmas around our house these days doesn’t involve lots of gifts, even with a little one (though she does the lion’s share of present-opening for sure). Yet this is not how I remember it in my house growing up. I’m privileged to say that our Christmases were quite abundant, and given that we lived a number of my childhood years in or near the same city as extended family, the gift exchanges could be elaborate.
It was wonderful and magical. And part of what I remember was seeing my father give my mother very nice presents for Christmas – fine jewelry and the like. Looking back, I viewed this type of gift giving as an integral part of a loving relationship.
My husband has never been much of a gift giver, but for years I forced our Christmas exchanges… and for years ended the holiday in silent disappointment. Until something changed inside of me, first shifting with the serious illness several years ago that caused me to question everything in my life – including the health of my marriage and the strength of my friendships. I saw a different kind of love then: service… and I realized that this was my husband’s primary love language. With the subsequent struggle to grow our family and the eventual birth of our daughter, I came to realize just how strong my marriage really is – through demonstrations of love that don’t involve little surprises or fancy presents.
So at some point, Trent and I decided to just stop doing the Christmas gift thing for each other. We’ll do an experience together or go out to a nice dinner, but no unwrapping extravaganza for us. Because I’m me and I still like a little bit of Christmas magic, I’ll sneak a small but practical present into his stocking while playing Santa. But I no longer expect anything in return. In this hilarious post, Carl of 1500 Days echoes our present practice of buying things for ourselves or each other that we need or want whenever, and being thankful for the ability to do so.
When traditions start to feel like obligations, it can drain us of energy and the potential joy at the heart of this season. Yet we ALL have the ability to step away from a tradition for a period of time, create our own new traditions, or tweak the ones we’ve followed before.
How do you know if you’re stuck hanging on to certain traditions or notions of what the holidays should be like? Spend some time on self-knowledge. Meditate, walk on it, journal about it. Take quizzes like at The Four Tendencies (which I reviewed here). The Five Love Languages, and The Quiet Revolution. (I’ve been studying how all these relate this year, so you’ll be hearing more about this topic in 2020).
What are your traditions (old or new) this time of year? Happy holidays!