How Important are Traditions at Christmas?

We are a family who has moved around. Quite a few times. Between military and corporate moves, we have had many addresses over the years. This is the exact opposite of how I grew up. My family of origin and our extended family all lived in the same town. Mine was the most-ever stable, organized upbringing. I, on the other hand, live in (semi-organized) chaos.

Holiday travel for instance, is one thing I did not experience growing up. Driving two hours to Cleveland to celebrate with my mom's brother's family (for a day trip, and not even on Christmas) felt, for lack of a better word, exotic. That was a tradition that I looked forward to every year, not least because I always felt that my Cleveland family was very cosmopolitan. And maybe they were, so maybe I had that right.

Living far away from family has meant that each year the holidays look a little different, but for the past six years, we have been in the same house. I am not sure whether I think of this as a sort of special feat, or I am itching to move again. We'll leave that to the employment gods (jk, I am a monotheist--nobody panic), since I go where the paycheck/food goes. I have never been one to argue over a move for that very reason. But, back to the point....

All of this is a preface for stating that the traditions I grew up with have not applied to my family, and our movement about the country has prevented us from just religiously participating in the those things that had been previously established by our parents and extended family. So, what to do? Try to bridge that gap--use a hodgepodge of traditions we grew up with and also make a few new ones of our own. These are what we have been able to cobble together:

Cutting down our Christmas tree. No, not from our neighbor's yard. This one was adopted from my hubby's family, and it is really fun. Lots of laughing, usually some arguments regarding the choosing of the tree, and usually some grumbling about how long it takes to decide. Good times.

Pasta. Coming from an Italian family, learning to make homemade pasta from my amazing aunt was a pinnacle experience, and the Christmas eve dinner depended on making absurd amounts of the stuff. The first time I made pasta and sauce in my own house with my hubby, I kept saying...It smells like Christmas! (He just laughed and wanted to know when we could eat it.) For the record, it is impressive when you live in places like Ohio and Texas. Then you show up in Pittsburgh and no one is impressed because every other family makes it, too. It keeps us humble, so it is all good. Ha! And we still make it for Christmas Eve dinner.

Elf on the Shelf, who is affectionately named Levi Pickles. Elves are the bane of every parent's existence, but all little kiddos love them.

A big night out. We take the kids to see A Christmas Carol and have a fancy dinner. It has been something they now refer to as "our tradition." Not surprisingly, this year we are heading to a hockey game instead.

We make sure our four kids buy presents for each other. This year (new tradition!) we are trying just exchanging names, to make it a Secret Santa sort of thing. They have to include a letter to their sibling, as well. A nice one. I'll keep you posted on this one.

Advent calendar. Spending time as a family for a few minutes every day preparing for Christmas in the spiritual sense. This is a tough one sometimes, but I am totally willing to bribe everyone with treats. It works, don't knock it.

How important are the holiday traditions? Growing up, I would have said that they were the most important because it didn't feel like Christmas without them. Truly, they are the very best memories, and they felt set in stone. I would characterize it now that traditions are important just because they mean we spent time creating memories as a family, and creating a sense of belonging. But I am open to traditions changing. We have new experiences every year, and, of course, my decorating looks a little different every year. We have enjoyed Christmas with different families as we have made new friends in each location. Some years we get to be with family, some years we don't.

Nothing gold can stay. Things are always changing. There is security in tradition and that is part of why we (okay, I) crave it. But, I don't hold on as tightly to the traditions as I did when I was young. I suppose part of that is basic maturity, and part of that is moving around a lot and realizing that you get to keep rewriting your traditions. They keep evolving in our family, and every year we get to enjoy some new things and hold on to some old things. We can't hold on too tightly to what we have, as comfortable as we may be. Recognizing the beauty in change is a part this.

I used to spend time grousing about the lack of traditions we have had as a family, but I missed the fact that what we do is our own tradition. I have learned that the tradition itself is less precious than the time spent together. I guess that means that part of our family tradition is making new traditions as we go along.

What about you? What traditions do you hold dear, and what are you looking to add this year? Pop on over to Gracefully Collected on Facebook to share your thoughts.

xo, Ann Marie

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