First let me say: I love Christmas. I love the decorations, I love the lights, I love some of the songs, I love picking out gifts, I love watching old Christmas specials on TV, I love making stockings. If I could get a full time job choosing things to put in Christmas stockings, I would be delighted. One of the things I have grown to love the most is watching my kids watch each other (and us) open gifts. They are all thoughtful gift givers, and they all enjoy seeing the reactions to their gifts, and I enjoy their reactions to the reactions just as much.

I don’t love tradition for tradition’s sake. I have said at many, many jobs that the worst reason to do a thing is “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” and I stand by that statement at holidays. I don’t come from a family with a strong attachment to traditions. Our kids grew up with two households, one of which was entrenched in tradition around all major holidays, and the other one (ours) was a lot more anything goes.

The basis of most holiday traditions is the family gathering, and of course sometimes that’s the hardest part. Even when everyone wants to spend time with everyone else (which is rarer the bigger the gathering is), the group is not always greater than, or even as great as, the sum of its parts.

When my parents were still alive, for a lot of years I avoided family holiday meals. If we don’t ordinarily communicate, and we didn’t always through those years, I didn’t see the sense in getting together as if we had been longing to see each other all year. I also didn’t love us when we did get together, and in particular I didn’t love myself. With our relationship and communication patterns established in childhood and then not updated much because we weren’t a regular part of each other’s lives, we fell back into old patterns too easily.

My own kids are better friends than my sisters and I were at similar ages, and I still watch them struggle with this when they are all together with any of their parents. The more parents are there, the worse it is. Someone always gets their feelings hurt. In my family, it was usually me, and though when I watch my own kids I can see a logical way to solve that for them, I couldn’t often put logic into action for myself, so my solution was to not go.

This year, of course, was the Christmas of the non-gathering. We had a family video call with all the kids, but we were each in our own households otherwise. Next year, maybe getting together will be an option, and maybe we will, and maybe we won’t. I want my kids to start their own traditions, and to actively decide what traditions they want – because they love them, and for no other reason. They may not all love the same traditions, and I hope they will be able to mix sharing traditions and going their own ways in a way that works for them all. I want us to all get together because we want to, and to be able to say when we don’t want to. If we are going to resume a tradition, I want it to be the tradition of the non-tradition. Do what you want, don’t put the weight of the year on a day, figure out the best way to love each other, take care of yourself. It works on holidays, and it works on non-holidays, too.

5 thoughts on “Traditions

  1. i admire your reasonable & sane approach to tradition, especially holiday traditions, Tessa. There is so much myth in our society’s messages about holidays and family traditions. So many messages about how spending Christmas alone must be miserable and lonely for anyone. I, too, love the opportunity to change what I do and with whom and how I celebrate. Your kids are fortunate to have you encouraging them to establish their own traditions based on what their hearts tell them will bring pleasure. 💕👏


    • Thanks, Jan. I love how you managed to say everything I was trying to get at in a few short sentences. Remind me to ask you for edits next time. 🙂 When my middle kid was a senior in high school we took a photography class together at MICA in Baltimore. He decided during that year that he wanted to take a year off in between high school and college (which, incidentally, I did as well). Several adults in the class were surprised I was supportive of this, and I said I’d rather support him finding his path as a 18 year old than picking up the pieces as a 38 year old trying to figure out where the last 20 years went. Obviously it’s not always that extreme, but I don’t get why so many people are so determined to shove their children down a road of “shoulds.”


  2. You tell the truth, Tessa. What a relief. Families are complicated. We make matters worse with our unreal expectations, our old, unresolved resentments. Only I know how happy I was not to make Thanksgiving dinner. I made stuffing for myself, cranberry sauce and yams and I was happy.


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