An ugly Christmas sweater contest, Aunt Ethel’s famous cornbread stuffing or catching a matinee movie after all of the presents have been opened and bellies filled. Holiday traditions often anchor us and create a bridge between where we have come from to what we hope to pass on to future generations. During the holidays, our unique cultural traditions have the greatest potential to help in the process of self-definition, to contribute to well-being and to cultivate an all-important sense of belonging and a healthy perspective of our place in the world.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is the story of a Russian family forced to flee their homeland.
In the song “Tradition,” Tevye — the wise father in the story — says, that without our traditions, the community of mankind would lose its grounding. “Because of our traditions,” Tevye sings, “we’ve kept our balance for many, many years … and because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is.”
The anticipation of Christmas was something that, as a child, I experienced as many other children do. One of the best times to be a child in many households is Christmas morning. On that day, most children arise with vigor, unlike most other days of the year. Sleeping parents beg for just a few more minutes (or hours) of sleep.
It seemed like just a spontaneous thing for my parents to say to my brother and me one year: “Why don’t you both sit at the top of the stairs so that we can get a picture of you before you come down?” Seemed like a fine idea, even if it delayed our ripping of wrapping paper by a few minutes. What began as a casual photo op turned into a tradition each Christmas with my brother and I clad in pajamas, perched on the top step.
The picture generally looked the same each year, while our pajamas, and of course our appearances, both changed with time.
Even after my brother and I both realized that Ol’ Saint Nick wasn’t a rotund, bearded man in a red felt suit, but really our parents, we still found it necessary to perch at the top of the stairs for a photo.
Susan Lieberman, a licensed psychologist, has said: “Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, warm and safe in a confusing world.”
Maybe that’s why we continued the photo tradition each year in my family, because even after we realized that Christmas was about more than Santa or presents, we knew that there was a familiarity and joy in something that was special to our family.
Traditions are really important, but they aren’t meant to be rigid.
While some traditions remain for generations, others may evolve into new ones, with expanding families creating new ways of developing meaning around the holidays. New traditions can be exciting, and if we are following someone else’s traditions, it can give us a glimpse into the meaning that others hold for the holiday season.
This holiday season, be intentional about your traditions. How do your traditions create joy for those around you? What roots do you plant for your children by creating and practicing traditions?
In the mind of that child who is dashing down the staircase on Christmas morning, perhaps the most important thing to them at that time is surveying the presents under the tree and diving in to them. But to that child who is now an adult, the meaning of that day in years past is really found in something else: the flash of a camera that captures the same delightful moment, at the top of the staircase, year after year.
Warmest holiday wishes to all this season. Until next time, be well.
Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Platte City with her family. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.