This time of year, there are many holiday celebrations. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Chanukah is right behind that. Then comes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These holidays are loaded with family traditions. Family traditions form memories that last forever and are passed down generation to generation. The traditions give us a sense of belonging. They connect the generations and promote family values. Keeping traditions going takes time, planning, and prioritizing. It is important to choose which celebrations and traditions you want to devote your time and effort towards.
But what happens when we can’t continue the same traditions? How do we cope when we must make adjustments?
Honoring Celebrations and Traditions
Many years ago, when my mother died our Christmas tradition of coming together as a family began to fall apart. My siblings and I were spread across the country. We tried at first to rotate and take turns hosting the celebration. But it got more and more difficult. We all had spouses who also had family traditions. We had children who were now older and had jobs and relationships. We tried. Some would do Christmas eve at one place and Christmas morning in another. Eventually it just was too much and as much as we loved each other it was no longer possible. I grieved the passing of this tradition.
An Adjusted Celebration
But we adapt. In my own home I put up a live tree (my mother always had a beautiful one) and I hang up stockings (only 3 instead of 20 or more but still…). I bake my family’s favorite cookies and mail them. We attend a Christmas eve service if only virtually. My son who lives nearby will come over Christmas day and we will exchange gifts and have a nice meal. My other son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren live in another state and are not traveling during the pandemic but there will be lots of Facetime and sharing. My siblings and I call each other. Christmas for me is about love and family and that still holds true.
Thanksgiving Celebration and Tradition
Thanksgiving has always been a very important coming together for my husband’s family. When we were still dating, he hosted it at his home and his children and grandchildren showed up. It was a riotous time. There was always a shooting of baskets somewhere in the afternoon after the meal and of course watching sports on TV. After we got married and moved into a smaller home and his grandsons got older and had jobs the tradition shifted. We got together but it was loosely rotated between our place and the sons’ places.
This year it is not going to be possible for us all to gather. One of his sons is coming here for a visit the week before Thanksgiving. He will be by himself as his sons are working and can’t get off. We have decided to go for the Thanksgiving Day meal to his other son in South Carolina. He is on call at work and can’t travel. My own son is having his Thanksgiving meal with all his favorite foods with us here on December 5 – when he will also help me put up the Christmas tree. We adapt and still hold on to what is dear to us.
Grieving Over Past Celebrations and Traditions
I have a friend who is struggling because one of her children can’t come to her traditional Thanksgiving brunch and meal. She says, “It’s like he is putting a knife through my heart.” I remember how much I grieved when our Christmas gatherings ended but I want to remind her that Thanksgiving is a time for loving our family and remembering all that we are grateful for. If I get to see my family, it really doesn’t matter to me that it is on “the day”.
Reflecting on Celebrations and Traditions
As the special days come upon us, I ask each of us to reflect on why this day is important. What can we do to honor the spirit of the day? How can we experience the true joy of the holidays?
If planning for the holidays seems overwhelming or you find yourself stuck and unable to move forward on any other organizing project, join Diane Quintana and me in our Clear Space for You virtual support group.
Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of four books as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients.
I think this post is so important. Each year is different. We may long for celebrations as they were in the past, but dwelling on these ideals doesn’t bring us joy or make us happy!! Instead, focus on the good that is present in the current moment. We can experience wonderful times even as our situations morph.!
So true. We have heard repeatedly that even when we have no control over circumstances we can respond how we react and deal with them. Let’s choose happiness.
You brought up so many feelings with your openness about holiday traditions and how they change over time. My parents and in-laws were amazing at creating various traditions and celebrations. They were touchpoints for bringing the family together. And while the moms often gathered us around a holiday or event, the point was always about being together, and NOT the actual event. Both moms were flexible in celebrating things and focused on sharing time. So sometimes, we’d have Chanukah in January or Thanksgiving on the weekend instead of the traditional Thursday. As long as we were together, they were happy.
When they passed away, many of the traditions left with them. And for a while, it made me sad. But then I realized that life changes, situations change, and sometimes traditions change. It was up to me (or us) to create new traditions. But even more important, it was up to us to find ways to be together in new ways.
This year we are hosting Thanksgiving again after not being able to last year because of the pandemic. But half of the family will not be able to join us. So it will be a different Thanksgiving. But I have accepted that. I’m looking forward to being together with those that will be here and visiting the other part of the family in December instead. Again, it’s the shared time and not the occasion that matters.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love my family and will enjoy them on any opportunity we can make. I know this is not true for everyone so recognize and acknowledge this gift.
“But we adapt.” Yes we do! And sometimes when an old tradition isn’t possible anymore, something better comes up. The process of figuring it out together can also help bring families closer. It makes you examine the meaning of the holiday, and what you and your family want from it.
Thanks for responding. Family happiness is the key. We do what we can to see that we spread happiness and not tension.
Celebrating is what it’s all about, but we need to let go of the idea that celebrations must always be the same. My family has lots of traditions — ask me why when we buy a new car, the first thing we do is eat ice cream inside of it!
But we have relatively few holiday traditions. Once I went off to college, the only holiday we dependably celebrated together was Thanksgiving. My sister worked in another city, and neither of us could get back home for the High Holidays, Hanukkah, or Passover. But Thanksgiving has always been pretty sacrosanct, and even when blizzards, or illness, or surgeries, or a pandemic kept us from dining together, we always found ways to connect via our traditions: specific, if atypical, foods, dancing to Ella Fitzgerald before dinner, singing along with Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant after.
We know that we won’t always have these times together, so we celebrate them with full hearts whenever and wherever we can. And yes, adapting helps us hold on to one another, making the traditions, and the meaning behind them, all the sweeter.
Our boys are now men, with a wife and two kids each, and they spend Christmas Day with their in-laws, so we have to settle for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and never get to see them all together. Now all our parents are gone, so we don’t get to spend time with them either. And of course COVID has complicated things even more. Thank you for this gentle reminder to enjoy whatever we can, when we can.