However you gather for the holidays, chances are that you have some familiar rituals to help celebrate the day. Some families serve the same meal year after year, others change the meal to reflect what's new and fashionable in the world of food. Some families participate in traditional activities like watching football, playing cards or taking walks in the woods. For others, the meal is a swat-team event where everyone is in and out in two hours. As time passes, we add new faces in the form of new relatives, friends and children, and those people become a part of the tradition too.
Psychologically, holiday traditions are important because we embed our values and belief system into them. This may include our beliefs about the importance of spending time with family, how children and the elderly are treated and valued, the roles of men and women and the importance of faith and religion. However we address these issues, either directly or subtly, we pass our beliefs on to our children. What appears to be a simple get-together is in fact much more.
Think for a second about what it means to you to have a birthday. How do you celebrate it and where did this tradition come from? Holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas are the same. Every holiday celebration is a statement to the world about what we believe in.
But what happens if your holiday traditions are not enjoyable? What if the conversations around the table are frustrating or the day itself doesn't reflect of your deeper belief system? The short answer is that you have to decide what you want to get out of the holiday and make it happen. You have to create your own traditions by augmenting those that already exist or developing brand new ones.
Think BIG about this idea because there are many ways to add your traditions, even if your family is rigid and set in their ways. Here are five tips to get started:
1. Think about what you want to feel once the holiday is over. For example, do you want to escape the commercialism of the holiday and connect with its deeper meaning? Do you want to rest during your time off from work? Do you want to feel like you talked with people who think like you? When it's all over what do you want to have experienced? The first step to a fulfilling holiday is to identify what a happy holiday means to you.
2. Accept that you have choices and that your time is your own to spend. Acknowledge that you make your own choice about where to spend time and how much of that time to give away to others. Top 9 Tips For A Successful Visit With The Family
3. Recognize that you are also responsible for the consequences of those choices. If you're rocking the boat by taking a trip to Europe for Thanksgiving instead of going home to the folks, they might be upset. Own your choices and communicate your feelings to those involved. When you share your plans, talk from the place of "I" and try to avoid blaming others for your choices. For example, "I want to spend my Thanksgiving in Europe…." Instead of, "I'm going to Europe because we fight over the turkey each year." You made the choice; own it and be responsible to it.
4. Feel free to start small. You may want to experiment with the traditions you want to create; don't feel like you have to give the whole day a makeover right away. Add a side dish to change the menu, take two hours to volunteer, spend one less day with your parents but still visit with them. Small changes can lead you to bigger ones.
5. Finally, recognize that other people in your family may not want the same changes you do—and that's okay. For many people the consistency of traditions is part of what make them special. They hold tightly to traditions even if they don't particularly care for them. Remember: you have choices, you own your time, and compromise can be your friend.
The most important thing to remember is that how you spend your holidays is a reflection of what you believe in and will surely be passed on to future generations. Take what you want, leave the rest and feel free to experiment. Through that process you'll find out what traditions you want to carry on and share with the ones you love.