As Christmas gets closer and we start to look to time off from work, I start to ponder how Christmas is going to shape up for my kids. I have worked hard over the last few years to maintain a relaxed holiday for the boys, but I have also focused on define some traditions that the boys will remember.
Growing up I remember stringing up the lights on the tree, helping dad put the lights on the house, baking cookies with mom, and participating in the many holiday activities that came our way. I remember that for a few years my Dad pulled out his old trumpet and my mom sat at the piano as we sang Christmas carols. We did eggnog by the fireplace, and setting up the tree was always a highlight. Yet, none really felt like “traditions” to me at the time. There was always fun activities, but often they did not seem consistent from year to year.
It was not that my parents didn’t try or that we, as kids, didn’t have a good time. It was just how things flowed. We were often traveling for the holidays, either to visit family or escape to a resort somewhere. When visiting family we often took on a few of the traditions exercised in their homes. Some cousins would open a single gift on Christmas Eve, some of us would put on skits or shows, sometimes we would have puzzles going, and sometimes we would just relax around the fire. Different family members handled each holiday in their own way, so that was how we celebrated … yet as time past I saw the patterns, those patterns are what became our Christmas traditions. As we built our own family we defined a few Christmas traditions of our own, these traditions were based off the patterns we saw growing up – just molded to fit our lives together.
Traditions are the threads that string together generations, they bind our future together with our past.
Over the last couple years, as I forged a new home, I worked hard to maintain the traditions that had defined our family. I was steadfast in my mindset of ensuring consistency for our children, not just in the rules of the household but throughout their life. Even as my world collapsed I did not want to expose them by disrupting their patterns and our family traditions. Our first separated Halloween and Thanksgiving we spent together as a family, we put up the Christmas tree together, and we spent our Christmas eve together. Over time this had become more difficult as we were also attempting to forge new lives. That first Christmas eve things fell apart and almost none of the activities I wanted to do as a family panned out. She had invited family friends to join us for the evening where I had expectations of a quiet “family” evening with the boys and no outside distractions. Truth be told, I was hoping for a chance of reconnection – a last ditch attempt to create a spark – and I think she was looking to ensure a distraction. We made the best of things for the boys … but it was obvious that it was uncomfortable and didn’t go the way either of us wanted. That was the last of our ‘joint’ family holidays…
While I told myself that it was for the boys, that I wanted them to see us continuing to work together and live as a unit, what I realized was that it was really me that didn’t want to lose the family. I was trying to force the image of the old world on what was quickly becoming my new reality. I needed to make my life my own, and this meant rewriting a lot of the previous patterns. It meant holding onto those things that I found most important while adjusting them to fit my adjusted family unit.
Traditions are not just the fluff and the ceremony, but the foundation on which our family cultures are built.
Over time, the boys and I created new traditions for our family. We start first outside the typical holidays and ceremonies by creating “Super Fun Fridays”, where we would go eat dinner at a local Steak ‘n Shake after I picked them up from their after-school program. This was an intentional bonding time I had manufactured to ensure dedicated time together every week. For a while we held a daily-reading period each night before bed, or sit Sunday evening after dinner and watch a movie. These were intended to grow into everyday traditions that the boys could hold onto as their world changed. Events and activities they could wrap themselves in like an old cozy blanket.
Some traditions, however, I have maintained as their ceremony remain at the core of how I want to define my family culture. So like every year since the boys were born, we shared in putting up and decorating the Christmas tree. Each year roles have changed as the boys have gotten older and grown into taking on new roles. However, it remains something we do together, it is how we start the season.
Traditions are what you make them.
Recently we made some modifications to our parenting plan surrounding the winter break schedule. During negotiations there were a few choices I had to make that would define how our Christmas split would be handled, and thus directly impact some of the ceremonial traditions that I have defined. So I was left torn over the situation, unhappy with my options, but I was reminded that current traditions are no set in stone – they are not an all-or-nothing scenario. They can be adjusted to fit your life or current situation.
Your traditions help define you and your family culture, they can be as unique as you are. If you can’t find your footing start small by defining a simple pattern. What starts off as scheduled time together can blossom into a tradition.
It is the emotions of the event that make them special and their consistency that brings comfort. What, where, or when isn’t as important as what is defined by doing it.
Happy holidays from our family to yours!