text and images by Rebecca Stanisic
As we sat around our Thanksgiving dinner table with my parents, siblings and all the kids, talking and filling our plates, someone joked there was a recipe for stuffing that included raisins and suggested we try it for a change sometime. After only a brief moment of pause, this nearly caused a riot. For all of my life my dad has made stuffing the same way, using a traditional recipe, and none of us could imagine changing that.
That dinner table chat isn’t the first time a potential change to one of our family traditions has increased tensions. Holidays of any sort have typically been on a wash, rinse, repeat cycle since I was a child. Sure, there have been some variations as we have all grown older and started families of our own; the past hasn’t been able to remain exactly the same. And while we can accept change, it’s clear in our family we don’t want to, or at least not readily.
It’s funny how close we hold special memories surrounding traditions. It makes me wonder why that is. Is it because we look forward to something so much that thought of it changing is stressful? Is it because we are all creatures of habit and find comfort in consistency? Part of me would have expected to welcome change, especially as I have gotten older, and yet here we are still ready to battle it out over a stuffing recipe.
My own children have fallen into this pattern as well, and it’s clearly because of their mother. Their father would be happy to explore new traditions, mostly because he’s content when the four of us are doing anything together. Like me, our children love the repetition of tradition and they demand certain activities year after year. We celebrate the Christmas season with an activity calendar countdown, the arrival of our Elf on the Shelf, and time set aside to trim the tree. We do it the same way every year, and make it a family event. This is what we know and love.
The holidays aren’t the only time of the year tradition reigns supreme. We have rituals for birthdays and the first day of school, as well as simple routines for when we watch a movie and get the popcorn ready. We thrive in these comforting habits. That doesn’t preclude us from trying something new and I like to think that even though we hold on tightly to these customs, we welcome new ones with open arms. However, the memories made in the moments of routine are quite special and I cherish being able to share pieces of my childhood with my children.
I understand all too well the difficulty in letting go of a family tradition. However, each year as the kids get older, we also want to be ready for something new and exciting, and want to consider their input, their requests and family changes that benefit all of us. Starting our own traditions is special as well.
Here are a few things to consider when introducing a new tradition or getting rid of an old one.
Say goodbye to anything that is stressful and brings no joy
Do you have traditions that are more work than pleasure? When they bring no joy to the family, they should go. And sometimes, they aren’t obvious. Maybe it’s time to stop hosting the big neighbourhood party or to skip doing all the baking yourself and outsource it to a local bakery.
Ask the kids what they would change
I find that often what I hold most dear can be quite different than what my children love the most. Have a family meeting and ask which activities are on every family member’s must-do list. I often incorporate my kids’ answers into our activity calendar.
Reinvent the old
Instead of introducing something new, or completely getting rid of something old, maybe there is a way to reinvent a tradition that is well loved, but that your family has somehow outgrown. For example, instead of getting your Christmas tree from a local lot, research tree farms where you can spend the afternoon drinking hot chocolate.
At the end of the day, we all know it is most important to be together around the holidays and to enjoy each other’s company. We make our own traditions and memories each and every time a new joke is told, a hug is given and time is spent together. Just don’t mess with the stuffing please.