What do you think of when you read the word tradition? The results can be a mixed bag. Traditions can be stuffy or old-fashioned as well as meaningful and empowering. And though traditions certainly have positive and negative connotations, the word itself simply means the transmission of customs through time.
Regardless of how we think about them, especially around the holidays, traditions don’t have to be big, grandiose things. They could simply be customs that you want to preserve, even in your own individual daily life. You and your friends enjoy having dinner together so you make a regular thing out of it. You have a monthly phone call with your childhood friend because you like staying in touch. You celebrate birthdays. You go camping on the Fourth of July.
As the classical genius Gustav Mahler poetically put it, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” It’s how we keep the things most important to us alive.
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Why holiday traditions have become more important
In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, holiday traditions might be more important than we give credit for. As time set apart from the normal, frenzied pace of our lives, they offer us a chance to relax and reconnect with the people closest to us.
As psychologist Michele Brennan writes, “Holiday traditions are an important part to building a strong bond between family, and our community. They give us a sense of belonging and a way to express what is important to us. They connect us to our history and help us celebrate generations of family. Most people can say, ‘Oh, this was great grandma’s table cloth we always used for Thanksgiving’ or ‘I remember stringing popcorn with my mom when I was young.’ They keep the memories of the past alive and help us share them with newer generations.”
But let’s be honest: We live in a diverse world with all kinds of different religions, observances, experiences, family structures, and cultures. Maybe fond memories of mom stringing popcorn on Christmas isn’t in the cards. And that’s totally fine! Remember, tradition is just the preservation of what’s important to you, of what you value.
And so, it’s never too late to inaugurate your own holiday traditions, tailored to reflect your own values and lifestyle. Here a few ideas:
Consider hosting a “Friendsgiving”
Probably the most popular manifestation of holiday tradition-making is a “Friendsgiving,” where you commune and feast with a bunch of friends instead of flying home to celebrate with family (or even in addition to it).
If that sounds like your thing, there are a lot of helpful Friendsgiving tips out there. One that I’m fond of is having the host be responsible for the turkey, but only the turkey. He or she cooks nothing else and everyone else contributes. Seems reasonable.
Make a list, check it off
Another thing to consider when starting your own holiday traditions, one that doesn’t necessarily require you to be either host or guest, is to simply reach out to other people. It could be with a gift or card and any small gesture to let them know you’re thinking about them.
Rebecca Blumhagen writes, “Listing out the people that are most important to you and who you want to send a holiday blessing to (a real live, specific one, from your very own address) is a really great way to remember the network of people who love you and who you love…Sending something from your address — your home — extends your home’s blessing and what it stands for across the network of people you have grown to know and love all over the world.”
What immediately springs to my mind when I think about people starting their own holiday traditions is “Festivus,” the infamous airing of grievances holiday from Seinfeld. Sure, it’s hilarious, but there’s also something more than a little touching about it because of how it reflects the people celebrating it.
Making a habit out of taking the time from your normally hectic life and celebrating with the people closest to you (even if that celebration includes an airing of grievances) is what holiday traditions are all about. They don’t have to be stuffy. They don’t have to feel like a burden. They can be light and fun and, most importantly, created to fit your personality and lifestyle. The activities and people you care about the most are just traditions waiting to be made.
Scott Beauchamp is a writer who lives in Maine. His work has previously appeared in The Guardian, Bookforum, Dublin Review of Books, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter here.