Tossing Tradition

I had an interesting epiphany about traditions. Traditions can be a yoke around our necks. A heavy link to the past. Even traditions that once brought you joy could be holding you back in the present moment. I'll give you an example. There is a dish that my family makes at the holidays. It is gross. No one likes it. At least no one alive. It's called corn and oyster casserole and it's as yucky as that sounds. Layers of saltine crackers, canned corn and canned oysters finished off with heavy cream, salt and pepper, and baked in the oven. I don't know who came up with this mess, or why it has become a holiday dish. This year, in musing about what to make for Thanksgiving, my sisters and I agreed that we should stop making corn and oysters. No one likes it that is living. I will admit that we have made it for the last three thanksgivings even though we knew no one was going to eat more than a spoonful of it. Why? Because that's the way it's always been done. It was freeing to decide that we did not have to make the nasty casserole any longer. The truth is, we didn't have to make it all along. We thought we did though. That's what traditions do. They get under your skin. They wheedle their way into your repetitive mind, and they stay there indefinitely. Since the holidays are all about keeping with tradition, it makes sense to evaluate those traditions and make sure that the ones you are carrying out are ones that actually bring you joy.


My new litmus test for traditions are that they cannot make life complicated for me, and they have to warm my heart. If they don't, they are out. I encourage you to take an honest look at all of the things that you feel compelled to do, particularly around the holidays. Do these things fill you up? Are they reasonable and feasible? If they don't, I urge you to find it within you this year to say no. I am astonished at how often we break ourselves financially, physically and spiritually to live up to tradition. We have a deep seeded idea that we have to do what has been done before.


So if not that, then what? What comes next if you decide to let go of old traditions? You can start new traditions, with the caveat that they will only remain a tradition as long as they bring you joy and make life richer. For the past few years we have played with different kinds of food at Christmas dinner. One year we did a giant taco feast. It was fabulous. I recommend everyone has a margarita or two on Christmas day. One year we did Italian food. Lasagna, Fettuccine Alfredo and a bottle of Moscato. Does it really get more festive than that? I remember once when I was a kid, my aunt suggested that we have a spaghetti feast for Christmas instead of traditional Christmas food. My dad was horrified. How could we forgo ham and potato casserole and all of the other trimmings that he was used to for Christmas dinner? Ultimately the plan was overturned and we went back to traditional Christmas food. I get it now though. She was sick of the same old grind. She didn't want to stand in the kitchen all day. She wanted a Christmas dinner that was quick and easy and that would change things up a bit. It's brilliant.


Gifting in itself is a laborious tradition. I saw someone suggest on Facebook last week that if you don't want to give and receive gifts you should just let everyone you know know that you are not going to be doing Christmas this year please do not give you a gift and please do not expect one. I understand why people may want to let go of the need to gift. I also understand that this could be a very sticky social situation. As a parent I am afraid that I have built tradition around gifting but I don't feel like I can get away from at this point. In fact I think that most people may see it as a bit callous and mean to decide to stop giving my children gifts for Christmas. The truth is, I don’t want to. Gifting DOES fill me up and bring me joy, so it will continue to be a tradition in my home. I also saw a Facebook friend posting for prayers in a prayer group that I belong to because her family has chosen to forgo Christmas this year due to lack of funds. She said that her their decision to let Christmas go had thrown them into a deep depression that she didn't know if they could climb out of. While I am confident that at some point they will climb out of this depression, that is how deep our attachment to the tradition of gifting goes. My daughters have a best friend who spends a lot of time with our family. Her mother and I have gotten to be good friends. She told me recently that she and her husband do not give each other gifts for Christmas. She said that they have always made it about the kids, and never worried about purchasing things for each other. My first instinct was to be sad for her. No presents for Christmas? The more I thought about it though, the more I realized how freeing that could be. Perhaps they just take good care of each other throughout the year. Perhaps when someone needs or wants something they find a way to get it without the decorum or pressure of Christmas.


This year, it is my hope for you and for me that we can evaluate our traditions and give ourselves permission to participate in things that bring us joy only. Let's do our best to stay present. Traditions are in the past, anxiety is in the future and yet we can choose to be comfortable, and maybe even happy with who we are and what we have right now. It is YOUR holiday. Do what you want with it!