Tradition is a beautiful thing if it doesn’t overwhelm you. But with traditions come a lot of expectations. And with failed expectations come a lot of stress and guilt. In the Bible we see two ways traditions can play into our lives - they can be beneficial (2 Th 3:6), but sometimes they lose their original purpose and only serve to distract from what is most important (Col 2:8).
Whenever you feel the “We have to do it this way because we always have” syndrome, stop and re-evaluate and ask yourself this question: “When is it okay for me to change the course of this tradition, or even stop it?”
Knowing that I no longer want to be rigid and make my family suffer during the holidays for traditions that are only important to me but not really valued by them, I’ve come up with these simple guidelines that work for our family:
Think of a new “twist” that you can put on your tradition. If the old way is not working, but it’s important to you to not lose it, be open to change! Be flexible and even ask your family for their ideas. As your kids grow and change, so will the needs of the family. When I found a great deal on a “fake” Christmas tree, I made sure the whole family was okay with the notion of giving up our traditional “going to the lot in the rain” experience, and dragging a soggy tree into the house. We all agreed it was a “go” as long as the tree looked real!
How does the tradition affect my whole family? I’ve always loved to Christmas carol, but with the ages of my kids right now, they do not value it as I do. We’ve always tried to cram it in, a few days before Christmas, when everyone is stressed and tired. It seemed to be a “flop” the last few years, so I’ve given up on that tradition, at least for now. We can always resume in the future if we want to.
“We have to do it because it’s what I did as a kid!” I’ve told my kids that over and over when it comes to making rolled-out frosted cookies. But come to find out, those sugary cookies make my family feel sick! The last 2 years I did very little holiday baking. It was good to let the “idea” of “having to do it” go, and actually live a little healthier! We did make our yummy Toffee Candy though.
How can you simplify the tradition? From the beginning of our marriage, one of our Coughlin traditions has been my husband’s “famous Christmas letter.” Paul’s gift of sarcasm, along with his sense of humor, has had people waiting all year long for this letter. Last year after the whole family worked together to get almost 300 letters/photos in the mail – we were pooped! This year we plan to simplify the process by sending it out through the cyber-world. We’re a little behind times with this idea, but at least we’ve come up with a new plan that will be easier on the family.
Be open to changing your tradition of giving at Christmas time. We all know that giving is more important than receiving. Getting our minds off of ourselves is the key. Every year is different with our finances and what we can give, but our family still talks about the one year we decided to anonymously bless a needy family instead of giving to an organization. The father of this family was blind, so that was very impacting to our children at the time.
The gift of time is also precious! One year we delivered gifts to “Project Angel Tree” families. We have to be open to where the Spirit leads us and open to new ideas.
What tradition is honing in on your life, weighing you down, and stealing your joy?
Should traditions be a burden or a pure joy? Is it something we have to do, or want to do? Is it something that adds to our faith and family life or destracts from it? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.
I’m open to change this year. How about you?
Sandy Coughlin is a wife and mother of 3. She loves her family and loves blessing other people's lives by entertaining in her home. Sandy’s husband, Paul, (who used to be the reluctant entertainer) has come on board, and they often offer hospitality together. Sandy and Paul co-authored a book called Married but Not Engaged (Bethany House, Aug. 2006). It's written to women who are married to "checked out" or emotionally absent men and who want to create a more satisfying, intimate relationship. This article was adapted from Sandy’s regularly updated blog “4 Reluctant Entertainers,” which you can visit at www.reluctantentertainer.com. Get more information on Married but Not Engaged by clicking here.