The holidays are here, and much of this time involves participating in rituals and traditions we both love and hate: last-minute shopping, familiar sibling arguments, predictable overeating and drinking. Truth be told (but it often isn’t!), we EVEN resent the happy rituals sometimes, like the hours spent preparing Christmas dinner or wrapping presents.
It’s easy to lose sight of the joy and pleasure of this time, especially in the cultural and familial rituals we take part in year in and year out. But we do it anyway. Why?
Your family holiday traditions should be fun. So even if you’ve been doing the same rituals for years, it’s never too late to make a change. Here’s how you can make it happen.
Traditions Are There for a Reason
No matter how big or small, our traditions create meaning in our lives. By celebrating and honoring these occasions, they are made both sacred and familiar. Traditions can keep us grounded and connected – no matter how hectic life is or how much things change. They give us an opportunity to draw each other closer and share intimate and memorable experiences with our families and loved ones. Unfortunately, many of us bury the true meaning and value of rituals as we complain and rush through our to-do lists and holiday festivities. Why is that?
In large part, holiday rituals were put in place before we had any say in them. So we feel obligated to participate in something we don’t think we have the authority to design ourselves. We “have to” go to our parents’ home or to the annual Hanukkah party or take the children to see Santa. We “must” set up a tree, light the candles, have gifts for everyone, spend time with a noncommunicative (boring) uncle or a brother’s snarky 14-year old kid.
Whatever might be on our “have to do” lists, we carry them around with the unspoken implication being … we have to participate whether we want to or not. But feeling resentment towards these rituals causes them to lose their magic.
What’s the point then?
Finding the Holiday Magic
If your holiday rituals have lost their meaning, now is the time to DO something about it. The first step is to admit your truth. What’s not working? Fess up how you really feel about the whole thing. Most people don’t realize this, but YOU have the power to alter what is, as well as create your own rituals as you see fit. You have this right whether it concerns major holidays or personal rituals that serve a purpose for you alone.
Holidays are a wonderful opportunity to investigate how you really feel about the family, what problems you face with family members, and the celebration itself. If the way they have always been isn’t working for you, maybe other members of your family will agree! It’s okay to step in and make things different. If you dread going to your sister’s house to be cooped up with her extended family, why not suggest that you all meet for an afternoon hike and share a stress-free meal at a restaurant? Starting new holiday traditions can bring you closer and add value to the time you spend together.
Suggesting changes to time-honored “traditions” may be difficult and emotional, but having an honest conversation is better than suffering through another holiday where you wished you were somewhere else. By being open, you and your family have the chance to resolve the issues at hand and experience a more authentic connection.
For example, one of our clients with a very successful brother was always uncomfortable with Christmas because his brother would give him expensive gifts he couldn’t afford to reciprocate. The client would either spend far more than he could afford or give something that embarrassed him by its modesty. His solution was to tell his brother he was uncomfortable admitting this, but he always felt diminished by their gift exchange.
Much to his surprise, his brother responded that it was his great joy to give extravagant presents but had no thought or concern about what he received back. In fact, one of his most treasured gifts from his brother had been a hand-bound journal he had made for him some years before. It was the personal nature that made gifts special to him and knowing this gave new meaning to the exchange. The wealthier brother agreed to cut back on the extravagant gifts, and our client felt better about putting thought into gifts that didn’t break his budget.
Can you hear the intimacy and the love that was created by telling the truth? It changed the holiday forever! In addition to decreasing the stress and adding to the value of these times, the point of revising is also to bring people closer together. We recommend that you evaluate all rituals by this principle and create new ones with this in mind.
Traditions Are Not Just for the Holidays
Many people forget rituals are not just for special occasions. We all have rituals in our everyday lives, be it reading to children before bedtime, sharing a glass of wine with your partner after dinner, or going to high school football games with friends. In fact, these “everyday” rituals can serve another useful purpose.
They can help resolve family problems.
Think about these examples. Two young sisters complained they did not get to spend enough time with their mother. So the family solution was to have the girls go away somewhere special for a mini-vacation each year with just their mom, no one else allowed. The young children in another family said they had no personal time with their busy father. The solution: the family started a Sunday morning ritual of dad preparing breakfast and sharing it with the kids while mom sleeps in. It’s not only your family holiday traditions that add value. New daily or weekly rituals can do that, too.
Tips for Happier Rituals
Don’t wait until next year to start revising your family holiday traditions. Start now, with the following tips to make this your happiest holiday yet.
Evaluate the rituals you don’t love and why.
Come up with ideas about how you can change these rituals.
Talk to those involved to figure out what works, what doesn’t, how to spice things up and have more fun in a way that works for all of you.
Try new ideas on for size. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to throw it out and try something new that you will all look forward to next year and perhaps even for years to come.
There is never a wrong time to change what you don’t like, and take action on the things you know will make you happy. Starting new holiday traditions offer the perfect opportunity to do just that! Of course, you can create this type of harmony in your life year round, too.