The biggest lesson I’m learning this holiday season — build your traditions in the sand.
I had a recent conversation with someone close to me who said she feels that when it comes to the holidays, most of us are just doing what’s expected of us out of an unwavering sense of obligation. And that like ninety-nine percent of all people are stressed and unhappy with how and where and with whom they have to spend their holidays.
She randomly threw out that number to make a point, but I remember thinking it kinda makes sense.
It kinda makes sense because that math illustrates a really interesting point — that in some families, we’ve all created and bought into this weird, holiday class system where once again the one percenters are ONLY ones reaping all (if any) of the rewards.
Only the family elite at the top of the holiday pyramid are feeling any semblance of peace, or joy, or jolly.
I come from a long, New England tradition built on this weird holiday pyramid. I have a laundry list of dysfunctional family holidays that stretch back decades because we didn’t know there was a choice beyond “the way it’s always been done.”
At best, the dysfunction was ever-present and deeply-rooted passive aggression that clanged like a cymbal in every word that was actually never spoken. I come from a huge extended family and, like most families, there was often friction between various family members. But for some reason, holidays are this weird time when we dive headfirst into long stretches of time shared with people that we actively avoid every other day of the year.
The result? An entire day built around terse retorts, cold shoulders, and pregnant pauses. It was like being thrown together in a giant bowl of awkward family soup just so everyone could check it off the chronically toxic to-do list.
At worst, the passive-aggression crossed over to plain old aggressive-aggression. Still, we all silently agreed to go back, year after year after year, and endure all manner of toxic behavior because eventually, if we played our cards right — we’d get to be at the top of the pyramid.
I know better now. I adore traditions — my kids adore traditions. But we recognize that unchecked, unquestioned traditions can eventually morph into holiday idols we race to uphold without peace…without joy…and without even knowing why.
So in our family, we’re learning how to build our traditions with sand that’s easily reshaped, reformed, and reimagined based on schedules and life seasons, instead of concrete.
Which is sometimes challenging, because truthfully — Scott and I have just about made it to the top of my family pyramid. In just a few years, we could actually be an elite holiday one percenter!
But, standing at the top of the holiday food chain watching our family try to shapeshift their lives into tiny spaces to meet my expectations doesn’t feel right.
So we’ll reshape, reform, and reimagine each and every year so they know this important truth: They mean so much more to us than any tradition ever could.
Today’s Soft Never
Today, let’s put a Soft Never on the belief that we can never change up our holiday traditions. Let’s endeavor to give our people one of the season’s most precious gifts — teaching them by example that they are far more important to us than any tradition ever could be.
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