I’m a man of traditions. I like for events such as holidays and birthdays to have meaning. For me, that meaning comes from traditions. And not just empty traditions, but traditions that have meaning because I choose to follow them each year. And when that tradition becomes empty, I search for a new tradition that has meaning.
As a kid, I always struggled with feeling that holidays and birthdays were empty because my parents didn’t follow traditions. It was frustrating that I wanted these events to have meaning yet it seemed that my parents didn’t. Once I moved out on my own, mainly in graduate school, I made it a priority to make traditions.
Since I am a religious fellow, many of the holidays I celebrate have a religious theme to them. So I did some research to find out how different Christians and Christian denominations celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc. Then I practiced some of these traditions and kept those that had meaning for me and let go of those did not work for me. This meant that during the Christmas season, aka Advent, I keep an Advent calendar and wreath, and I also celebrate Epiphany. In preparation for Easter, I keep Lent and celebrate each day of the Holy Week.
Along with the religious aspect of the traditions I sought, I was also looking for cultural traditions as well. As a Spanish major, and subsequently living in Spain, I was familiar with Iberian-American traditions. I also added some of these traditions onto the religious ones I had acquired. Together the religious and cultural traditions added several meaningful layers to the holidays I kept.
In the years since I started this search, I have felt my life has had more meaning and enriched. But this didn’t alleviate the conflict I felt with my family’s lack of traditions. That is until I looked at my family’s lack of traditions in a new light.
I happened upon some traditions I wasn’t looking for due to getting married. As my wife became better acquainted with my family, it was she who noted certain traditions my family had that were uniquely ours. They didn’t relate to the major holidays. Instead, they related to events such as the first and last days of school (where we go out to eat on both occasions), and Cinco de Mayo (where we either prepare or go to a Mexican restaurant). Once I realized these traditions I began to dig deeper into my family’s history of traditions.
Which brought me to Christmas. Every year it seemed like my family did something different to celebrate the holiday. The only constant was that we do not open gifts until Christmas morning. But then it dawned on me. There WAS a tradition we kept. We didn’t do the same thing every year! In a sense it’s an anti-tradition, but basically it means that every year we all discuss what we want to do for activities and meals and that becomes that year’s traditions.
Some patterns have developed from this tradition and that is that every year we go to at least one movie in the theaters, each night we watch a Christmas film and everyone who is present for the holiday gets to choose another film to watch throughout the vacation. And we always pick and choose what food we want for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Saturday after Christmas (my family keeps Saturday as our day of worship).
Since encountering and reevaluating these traditions I saw my family in a new light. I realized that by choosing the movies, entertainment, and food each year keeps those things from loosing meaning. And it makes us all more cognizant of our choices since we knew our input would be valued. As you can guess, holidays with my family have been much more meaningful in recent years, and now instead of dreading them I look forward to them.
If you’re wondering, this year we are going to see the Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug and Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The Christmas movies we’ve viewed so far are Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (a personal favorite), and The Santa Clause. And for our Christmas feast we are having a Mexican spread: enchiladas, Spanish rice, tamales, guacamole, and nachos.
I hope that you and yours will have a meaningful Christmas and New Years. I look forward to hearing about what traditions you keep.