How to decide which holiday traditions to keep

Traditions should be about making good memories and not be stressful and over-complicated.

The holidays are fast approaching. I’ve been thinking of things like getting my kids dress clothes for their programs at school, what cookies I’m going to bake this year and what gifts I need to order to cover everyone on my list. But, I also don’t want to overlook the good parts of the holiday season.

I’m a person who likes traditions. In fact, last November, I told you all about 8 simple Christmas traditions that will bring your family closer. In that post, I included two free printables of traditions my family does yearly: an Advent calendar and a daily Bible verse that leads us through the Christmas story.

We will maintain those traditions this year along with other things like unwrapping a Christmas book each evening Dec. 1 through 24, having a cookies for breakfast on Christmas Eve and driving around to look at Christmas lights.

Through the years I’ve learned to evaluate traditions and whether we should continue them or let them pass on by. Sometimes figuring out which traditions to keep and which to let go can be challenging.

Why it’s hard to let traditions go

Traditions in and of themselves are things we have come to count on. Some traditions we’ve done for most of our lives, so we have feelings strongly attached to them. And if they include feelings associated with family members who are no longer with us, it gets even more intense.

Traditions carry so much emotional baggage that they can be very hard to let go. We feel like we are betraying our loved ones if we stop carrying on their traditions. Or we feel like we are depriving our kids of not continuing traditions we started or we did ourselves as children.

Then there’s the simple fact that we often get stuck thinking that something HAS to be done because it’s ALWAYS been done. We can treat traditions like if we don’t do them, the world will come crashing to a halt and all will be ruined. We can take them very seriously.

And then traditions can also be hard to let go because we are creatures of habit who typically don’t like change. Change can be hard, especially for some of us (raising my hand high!).

How to evaluate traditions

Nearly every year is a good time to evaluate traditions. For example, my family’s tradition of unwrapping a Christmas book every night Dec. 1 through 24 has been something my kids have enjoyed. However, I am also aware that the year will come when neither of them get excited to open a picture book to read each evening. This isn’t that year; it will be bittersweet when that time comes.

As we head into the holiday season, we need to think about the traditions we do and evaluate whether they are still important to our family. If they aren’t, then it’s time to let them go.

We also need to consider how much stress a tradition is causing us. Sometimes traditions can be stressful. For a few years while my kids were toddlers and preschoolers, we would bake sugar cookies and have our parents over to help us decorate the cookies all together. We’d order pizza and make an evening of it.

Last year, that didn’t happen. It was too much stress to add one more activity into our lives at Christmastime, because it is the kind of tradition that can’t be done too far ahead since it’s a baked good. This year it may work out to do or it may not, but I’ve realized that either way we’ll have a good holiday season. It won’t all be ruined because I let that one thing go. In fact, it will be better than if I pushed myself too hard trying to fit it all in and be more stressed out.

Sometimes a tradition has to be let go for even just a year or a season. The Christmas I was pregnant with my youngest child, I was on modified bedrest for intense pain. I had to let some traditions go because I physically couldn’t do them. Some years are just like that.

In evaluating traditions, we also should consider how our family feels. Talk with them and see what they think about certain traditions. What’s important to them? What do they most look forward to each year? If your kids are old enough, ask their opinions. Have them pick their top three traditions they love. Prioritize those!

Remember that Christmas Eve cookie breakfast I told you about? That’s one of those traditions. It was a small thing that I had done with my daughter and didn’t think much of it. It has become something she looks forward to every year. I’m glad I asked her to know what she liked most. And the best part is that it’s a small, easy tradition to maintain!

Consider tweaking a tradition or creating a new tradition

While sometimes just letting go of old traditions is best for us and our families, other times changing them can work well. Maybe nobody is so interested in driving around to see Christmas lights, but instead they’d love a Christmas movie night in with hot chocolate and PJs.

Thanksgiving Day has brought one such tradition for me. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved watching the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” As an adult, I continued doing so. I have a photo of my 3-year-old daughter and me watching the parade together the Thanksgiving I was pregnant with her baby brother. It was a tradition I was excited to share with my kids.

However, getting to actually watch the parade on Thanksgiving can sometimes be challenging. Last Thanksgiving was particularly out of sorts. My husband was gone on a trip to help hurricane victims in Florida, and my kids spent the night with my in-laws to help get everything ready for Thanksgiving dinner. I was alone on Thanksgiving morning and during the parade. I decided that instead of moping, I’d record it and we’d watch it later.

So Thanksgiving evening, the kids and I had snacks and watched the parade together. We fast-forwarded through some of the performances we weren’t interested in. My mom stopped by. We tweaked a tradition with great results.

This Thanksgiving my husband will be here. But I’m guessing that parade watching on Thanksgiving evening will stick with us. It’s just easier for us right now.

And easy is what any new tradition should be. Traditions that are easy to do are easier to maintain. The most simple traditions are often the most memorable ones because they are low-stress and easy to do. The less stressed you are, the more you enjoy them and so does the rest of your family!

Focus on what’s important

Overall, traditions should highlight what is important to your family. You need to decide at the holidays what you most want to remember and focus on. What are the things you’ll remember most in 10 years?

I want to make sure that we focus on things like being thankful at Thanksgiving and remembering the gift of Jesus at Christmas. I also want to make sure that we have fun together. Those things are most important to me. If any of our traditions don’t fall into one or both of those categories, then I’m fine to let them go.

If we’re deciding to change a tradition or add a new one, I evaluate it with the same criteria as well.

Traditions really should be all about making good memories. They shouldn’t cause unnecessary stress and be over-complicated.

This post is part of The Blogvember Challenge on Forever Beloved!

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