When It’s Time to Let Holiday Traditions Go

The very definition of the word “tradition” implies a practice or action that has been long-established and passed from generation to generation, embedded in the very fabric of a family. In reality, that isn’t always the case and families change–forcing traditions to change along with them. Divorce and re-marriage, death, changes in the family dynamic, a move–these are just a few of the reasons that families may find themselves faced with letting go of an established holiday tradition. And, this can be a painful, heart-wrenching process.

It is often hard to remember during the grief of change and letting go, that by letting go of the old, we are opening up and making room for the new. This doesn’t mean we have to forget. I remember a few years ago, when I was going through a divorce, my sister summed it up during a conversation over coffee, when she said, “It’s a process of going from ‘it used to be that way’ to ‘now it’s this way’.” She made it sound terribly simple but she was actually trying to say we incorporate both on our path from there to here.

Not all changes have to be painful and it may just seem a natural evolution. Think of how families “let go” of Santa as their children age or Santa morphs into another idea. Older children may play Santa for the younger ones, or some families begin a “secret Santa” and draw names to surprise each other. At times, it becomes very apparent when it is time to let something go since it has been outgrown or no longer fits the family.

Other times, a tradition may be meaningful to one person and the others are ready to let it go. I came face-to-face with this reality when my son informed me that my funky, cherished tradition of making homemade chili on Christmas Eve “had to go.” Here I had thought that growing up with a big pot of chili on Christmas Eve would be special and unique and someday when my kids were out in the cold, cruel world they would remember and long for mom’s Christmas Eve chili. Well, it is a tradition and part of our lore–but in taking a vote, everyone (excluding me, of course) was ready to move on and they aren’t big fans of chili anyway! So, it now becomes “remember when we used to have chili on Christmas Eve” and we are able to move on and create a new tradition in its place.

The trick is to acknowledge the sadness and grief over a lost tradition while embracing the new. Chances are, most families go through this process over and over again–when there is a marriage in the family and it becomes necessary to incorporate another person and their traditions, when there is a death or divorce, or even a birth or adoption–all of these events can create changes in holiday traditions. Perhaps, grandpa always carved the turkey at dinner, but he has passed away. It becomes necessary to change the tradition in the midst of grieving grandpa’s passing. Acknowledging and appreciating the “old” while welcoming and encouraging the “new” is key in letting go of old traditions in order to create more.