new traditions


Holidays are filled with traditions.  They populate our seasons of remembrances.  They may be around the stories that granddad spins each Christmas.  They may be foods  we eat that represent the season. They may be decorations, ornaments, songs, games.  Somehow, they come to be what we remember and look forward to.

And traditions are important for they give us a sense of comfort and safety.  They help us define what the holiday means.  They remind us of our connection to communities and they bind us to people of the past.  They help us know that there is some continuity in life and that we can count on somethings to be constant.

But, traditons haven't always been what they are.  They started somewhere, sometime, with someone. Most of the time we don't remember when they started.  They have just always been present.

But, life that moves us forward erases some of our practices.  Family members move away.  Children grow up and are not enchanted with the same things.  People die and are represented by empty chairs or are felt in the empty spaces of our hearts.  People make new commitments to new people and all of a sudden there are more people to include in family gatherings.  Things that "we have always done" no longer seem to be possible.

So, remembering that traditions were once not present lures us forward to trying new things.  The absence of some of the people or practices leaves empty space for interesting experiments.  Some of them will stick and we will do them again (isn't a traditon something that we did more than once?).  Others will not be remembered and we will try something new.

I miss some of the things that I used to do at holiday times when my children were growing up, but to discover joy in my life during these days, I grieve what is no longer and embrace the excitement of trying new things with those who share my days and my geographical space.  And I find a quiet and contented joy in the creation of new habits and patterns of celebration.


I recently led a class on preparing for the holidays.  A dozen of us gathered to share our anticipations and our anxieties.  As we talked we discovered that almost everyone there was struggling.  Most were not really looking forward to the holidays.
  In the stories were shared, most were dreading the holidays because they anticipated the sadness and loneliness that is part of them.  Most experienced the holidays as times when they missed something or someone really important to them:  deceased family members; children away from home; hopes for resources to do more than they were able to do; traditions that were no longer possible because of the changes in life or location.
Holidays are times when we seem to focus on accumulated experiences that can’t be replicated. (Or, more accurately, the memories of experiences that had acquired special meaning but can no longer be duplicated.)  While our life is full of such experiences, holidays seems to be a depository for more focused and special memories.  Hopes for happiness are exploited by a culture that uses our longings for belonging to sell us promises provided by its products.  We experience the stress of trying to be in the holiday spirit.
 But, I think that holidays are more than about what we have had and lost.  I believe they are open times for the welcoming of new and interesting possibilities for the future.  To welcome and embrace that open space for the future that has been given to us by the loss of things the way they were, we have to grieve the losses so they don’t control our way of looking at the holidays.
 Grieving the loss of the world the way it was frees us to embrace the world that is coming.  As you face the holidays and feel dread or sadness overtaking your spirit, take time to look at what has changed, to name that which is no longer a reality, to remember  the good that you have received, to forgive the past for not being permanent, and play with new ways of celebrating, developing new traditions that affirm what you truly believe about the holiday’s meaning.  Holidays are about relationships, loved and lost, and wherever we are, new relationships and new ways of expressing our life together are all around for us to explore.