I was raised in a family steeped in tradition. Some of my most favorite childhood memories are of annual family gatherings and seasonal activities that we participated in as a family each and every year, particularly at Christmas. Christmas was always such a magical time for me as a child, and I am most grateful to my wonderful mother for devoting herself to intentionally creating excitement, joy and happiness for my brother and me each and every year of our childhood. She set the bar high, and exceeded all expectations each year. Christmas was pure delight and was greatly anticipated all year long.
When I grew up, got married and had children of my own, I carried forward the traditions that meant so much to me and began creating new Christmas traditions that made sense for our young family. There was decorating the house and the Christmas tree, special church services, singing and listening to Christmas music, shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, Santa visits, making cookies for Santa and food for his reindeer, reading Christmas stories, watching Christmas movies, creating and mailing over 150 Christmas Cards, Edward the Elf shenanigans, Christmas PJs, special Christmas Eve bedtime routines, and the culmination of it all – the surprise and wonderment of Christmas morning when Santa’s generous and special gifts were finally revealed. All of this was a lot of work, but it was so much fun and recreated the magic of my own childhood for my two precious children. Each and every year I LOVED these traditions. Until, I didn’t.
October 19, 2010 is the day my divorce was final. My children were 12 and 9 years of age. The separation and divorce were very hard on them, as to be expected, and I felt extra pressure to be sure that their routines and home life were disrupted as little as possible. Christmas time that year magnified this pressure. I remember trudging through each and every tradition and activity in an effort to keep the magic alive for them, and with each one the magic died a little bit for me. Christmas cards, church services, and Christmas music that year were especially difficult for me. I cried. A lot. And, somehow, I survived that first Christmas as an unmarried mom. The next two Christmases were much the same for me: the same traditions and a lot of crying. All of my Christmas joy had been snuffed out. Then, something amazing happened: a thought popped into my head that began the reignition of the magical flame of the season. On December 16, 2012 I made the following declaration in my journal:
How do I want next Christmas to be different?
I want to FEEL Christmas.
I want to look forward to Christmas.
I want to anticipate Christmas.
I want to be excited about Christmas.
I want to feel joy about Christmas.
I do not want to be depressed or hurt next Christmas.
I want to get rid of traditions that bring me pain.
I want to keep traditions that are meaningful to the girls but that don’t hurt me.
What? Get rid of traditions? When I first wrote, “I want to get rid of traditions that bring me pain” I couldn’t believe what I had just put down on paper. Was it really that simple? Just quit doing things that hurt? I mean, traditions are meant to be carried on each and every year, forever and ever, amen, right? Maybe not. It was an earth-shattering and liberating thought. I created a list of about 10 specific traditions I wanted to keep, and about 8 I wanted to ditch. That day I became intentional about creating new experiences for the girls and for myself for the following year so that we could all three live the true meaning of Christmas: love, joy and peace.
At a leadership conference I attended this past February one of the speakers posed a question to us: “Do you know what tradition is?” Then she continued: “It’s peer pressure from dead people.” Laughter rippled through the conferees and it struck me as so very true. I immediately thought of that December several years ago when I began the journey of taking charge of how I spend my time and energy, especially around the holidays. Traditions are carried on for generations – some of them can remain meaningful and bring joy, and some of them outgrow their usefulness and bring pain. Many, many times we participate in traditions out of a sense of obligation and not because they are healthy for us. In 2016 I recognized that the traditions I held onto because “that’s how we had done things for 12 years or more” had become a weight of gloom, doom and despair. I also realized that I had the power to make things different. I realized that it was OK to let go, to redefine, to re-create, to change with the times. Change is hard and scary, and it is absolutely necessary if we want to actively participate in creating a healthy and functional life for ourselves and those we love.
Are you feeling burdened by your circumstances? Is that burden made heavier as a result of traditions that require more energy than they create? If so, give yourself permission to make a change. Ask yourself: “How do I want this to be different next time?” Allow yourself to dream a big dream of what would bring you love, joy and peace. And, then, do THAT! We all have the power to create our reality.
This year, 10 years after my epiphany that traditions don’t have to last forever, I have reclaimed the magic and joy of Christmas. My oldest, who is now 24, will be coming home next week. My youngest, who is now 21, will also be here. We will be participating in new experiences and some traditional ones, but only the ones that make us feel love, joy and peace. I am excited for our time together as a family.
I wish for each of you a loving, joyful, peaceful holiday experience this year. And, if you find that your experience is less than that, I wish for you the strength and courage to make a change for next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Intentional living is the best gift you can give to yourself and all of those within your circle.
My best ~ Jenn