The making of a tradition comes with ease – from the perspective of a child.
When we were kids, we would just do what the grown-ups told us to do. We didn’t have the autonomy to determine where we went, or with whom we broke bread. Our friends were our family members and closely vetted neighbours, and if we were lucky, some kids from school.
We didn’t even get to sit at the table with the adults calling the shots. We were relegated to the Kids’ Table, the older kids left to moderate the proceedings, as younger siblings and cousins jockeyed and vied for position in the wholly legitimate, yet utterly meaningless, rankings we bestowed upon each other.
As we grew older, our traditions butt up against those of our friends. We compare and contrast, complain and cajole, but still are not in a position to do much about it.
When I was growing up, my parents would allow us to visit with friends on Christmas Day. This flew in the face of the traditions of many of my friends’ families, as Christmas Day was a day to be spent with family – immediate and extended – and their parents did not understand why I was let loose to play with whomever I could find on such a day as Christmas.
The simple answer? Opening presents and then children playing with their friends after breakfast was tradition on Christmas Day where my parents grew up in South America.
It quickly became clear, when no one was available to play with, that that particular tradition would not be something incorporated into our North American lifestyle.
So, we rolled with it. In short – we again, did what our parents told us to, and childhood was blissfully uncomplicated. At least when it came to scheduling a calendar.
Some attend church service on Christmas Eve. Some wear matching pjs and stay up until midnight to open gifts. Some wake up bright and early and open presents. And still some others gather for a family meal first, then open gifts.
It’s not until we reach adulthood that we realize the absolute chaos involved in the creation of this thing called tradition.
Some well-loved traditions followed us forward into our university days and beyond, and some were forged in those tumultuous days as we were learning more about ourselves, the world around us, and how we fit into the mix.
It was a time when a lot of us were on our own and left to our own devices for the first time. And with it came a real sense of the beginning of what it would mean to be an adult, which included its very own specific set of competing schedules and priorities. Classes of increasing complexity and importance to our futures, burgeoning romantic entanglements, new, powerfully bonded friendships, and our home base – family.
Balancing those priorities came with some stress and disappointment, realizing that your holidays weren’t necessarily going to look like they did when you were a kid. And, if you were like me, having to explain and defend your new priorities to your mom with varying levels of success.
It was also filled with wonder and fun, much like when we were kids. We built new traditions with our friends who celebrated holidays we didn’t, ate lots of food (cafeteria-prepared and home cooked), partied with abandon, and in the amalgamation of those things, we created our own, novel, albeit mostly temporary traditions.
As we get older still, those traditions are transported into our more permanent lives. The lives we share with our own families, and our trusted friends. They become protected spaces on the calendar and expectations are drawn around them.
Who will host which special event? Will folks need a babysitter or are kids included in the festivities? Is it a raucous evening? Or one of quiet remembrance?
All these things are negotiations we make as we walk through life; and most change as we do, as we journey along, turning what may have once been an absinthe-infused fever dream into a Norman Rockwell painting.
When we settle down with partners a new layer of complexity is introduced. It is no longer just your traditions that are to be safeguarded, but also those of your loved one – and in order to do that we are asked to be mindful and protective of their schedules
In my circumstance, my husband’s family attends midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It was not something my family did, but it was important to him that we incorporate that custom. We also had to ensure we were in attendance for dinner at my aunt’s as well as my parents’ holiday party on Boxing Day. As his family lives far away, it required us to do a bit of travelling and to build that into the new customs we were creating for ourselves. It took some patience and concessions, but we made it work.
Long-held traditions become that way due to the passage of time, but they didn’t start off that way.
The passing of a long-held tradition from parent to child, brother to sister is a right of passage. The passing of that baton comes with a lump in the throat for one, and a swell of pride for the other. Any new disruption to that rubicon will come with angst and hurt.
Those earlier questions we ask ourselves take on a new component. Conflict.
They are to be met with another component. Compromise.
And two other elements. Understanding and empathy.
There is going to be disappointment – particularly at first, so it must be done with care and consideration; and as we journey through life, we will find ways to incorporate those long-held traditions with new ones.
Creating a schedule to accommodate a newly extended family means some give and take. By everyone involved. So this year, when you open your calendar and begin to plot out the major events, try to be reasonably amenable to change, and use a pencil.
With patience, empathy, and compromise the rich amalgamation of the various customs will result in your own personal and beloved traditions – undoubtedly forged in chaos.