Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Nontraditional Tradition

Father Christmas on Holiday Leaning on a Car Using a Mobile Phone and Wearing a Hawaiian Shirt

I have a love/hate relationship with "tradition".

Nothing feels better than traditions that bind our memories to people we love. Those traditions, large or small, are usually some of our best memories and the joyful fuel of anticipation.

Traditions give us common bonds with the participants. Formal ties to the people involved. They define our relationships in noticeable ways: "We have a tradition together. This means I will always have you in my life in this special way."

But here's the rub. Traditions tend to be based upon consistency-- things staying the same, needs staying the same, circumstances being the same. Doing the same thing in the same way with the same people.

I love that kind of stuff. I actually used to say frequently, as my children were growing up, "I wish I could stop the clock right now and keep everything the same." (I tried pretty hard to do this. Just ask my now grown children. I was pretty committed to letting them grow up as slowly as possible. Their friends probably saw me as the most protective and old-fashioned mother in the universe. They might possibly have been correct. I remember my husband suggesting our daughter just say she was raised Amish to explain some of her innocence when she went off to college...)

There are many moments in life like that. Those times of acute awareness that the moment is pure joy, could not be improved in any way, and you wouldn't change a thing.

But so far no one has figured out how to push the pause button on life. It just keeps on taking us farther down the road, and I must say that is a good thing. Who is ready to relinquish future possibilities? Not me.

Most of the good stuff in life results from change of some sort, if you think about it. Certainly there can be no new experience without change. Imagine a life like that. (I've had several close relatives with dementia. Perhaps memory loss in the aged is a blessing. Every experience is "new" all over again. And again! A little gift to keep life from being horribly boring....!)

So what happens to traditions? Well, one of two things, I think:

Either: commitment to the tradition overrides the need for change...and eventually it becomes stale. Someone moves or grows up or dies, and the fabric of the tradition has a hole in it. Life changes a bit and the tradition doesn't feel the same. Traditions can become burdens when devoid of meaning...and terribly sad when they mark our losses.

OR (and this is a lot cheerier, I promise): our traditions are fluid, evolving, embracing change rather than recoiling from it. Those kinds of traditions can go on forever. They will not become dated, irrelevant. Their elasticity allows room for my favorite friend, Serendipity, to come to the table and surprise us.

This holiday season, I propose "the nontraditional tradition." I will consciously seek to update our traditions where the need exists. Where it doesn't, where the tradition still serves a meaningful purpose, we will take note. And perhaps talk about interesting conversation, I'll bet.

I think I'll make a tradition out of this. :-)


  1. I love reading your "thoughts." I'll have to show you the piece I just wrote last week on a similar theme.

    I love your line: "Their elasticity allows room for my favorite friend Serendipity to come to the table and surprise us."

  2. Thanks! I'd love to see what you wrote. Can you email it to me?

  3. Your words express my thoughts...especially this year when my family will all be at my table. Seems these days the the most fervent defenders of the "traditions" are my children. They can hardly wait to do the things that mean "holidays" to them. And my new daughter embraces it totally! How lovely to be able to pass this love along. I'm counting the days!

  4. Oh Jeannette - your entry just hit the spot! I enjoyed reading your thoughts now that the holidays are almost upon us. Thank you so much!