Seven Swans a-Swimming – Embracing (Or Enduring) Family Traditions

Every family has its holiday traditions. Whether it’s as simple as everybody gathering at Grandma’s for Christmas dinner, or going out on a certain date to pick a tree, or putting up the ornaments just so, or as elaborate as snow football followed by hot chocolate followed by It’s a Wonderful Life followed by dinner followed (finally) by presents, we all have them. Some of us remember the roots of our traditions, and that makes them all the more special for us; some families follow the same traditions year after year even though nobody remembers why.

We all have traditions we cherish for the holidays, and others we could just as well live without. It’s the ones we could live without, the ones we don’t enjoy, or don’t enjoy any more, that we need to consider.

It seems to me the main purpose of a tradition is to help us remember. It gives us an action, something positive to do, that helps us recall the good stuff in our family’s past. As long as it does that, and as long as we believe what it helps us recall is worth remembering, a tradition is worthwhile.

When it stops doing that, it may not be worth observing any more. Especially if we don’t enjoy it.

That’s where things get tricky. Because the perceived value of a tradition may be quite high for some members of the family, and quite low for others. The split usually follows the lines between generations: a tradition that’s important for Grandma, that helps her remember Grandpa or Great-Granddaddy or Aunt Phyllis, may have very little value for the grandchildren who are themselves new parents and anxious to build their own traditions.

We have a few choices when we’re faced with a situation like that:

  • We can ask Grandma why this tradition is important to her, if we don’t already know, and try to embrace it on its own merits;
  • We can embrace it because it’s important to Grandma, which is probably what we’ve been doing most of our lives, and make no real attempt to understand it;
  • We can endure it because it’s important to Grandma, and fantasize about the new traditions we’ll start when she’s gone;
  • We can offer an idea for a new tradition we’d like to start, accepting the risk that the family will reject our idea;
  • We can tell Grandma we don’t see the point and refuse to participate, accepting the risk of offending her (if Grandma is still cooking the holiday dinner, I don’t recommend this);
  • We can quietly withdraw and find another place to be for the day.

Of course, there’s another purpose for tradition: to provide structure so everybody knows what’s coming–which may be critical in these days of constant change. If that’s the case, and most everybody enjoys the tradition, by all means, keep at it.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.