As we head into the holiday season, you may start to reminisce about traditions. Whether it’s the homemade desserts your grandmother made, the way your mother sang festive songs, or gift-giving rituals your family honored. However, as years pass, people move, and lives change, you may not practice the same routines.
And hey, that’s okay — but it can be challenging to let go of. As clinical health psychologist Dr. Natalie Christine Dattilo puts it, traditions anchor us and provide familiarity and predictability. “But traditions, like many things, occasionally need a reboot or even replacing,” she continues. “Letting go of old traditions doesn’t have to be sad or somber. It can provide an opportunity to clarify your family’s values and create new traditions that are in better alignment with those.”
Here, ways to explore your relationship with traditions, as well as inspiration from others who have gone against rules:
Ask yourself these questions.
If you want to shake up the status quo, it may be helpful to do a little self-assessment first. Dr. Dattilo says these questions will help you better to understand your relationship to the holidays and tradition:
- When you think about the holiday season, what are the first words that come to mind for you? Family? Fun? Stress?
- Next, how do you feel about the holiday season, honestly? Do you look forward to them? Do you secretly dread them?
- Finally, what’s your holiday personality style?
“Traditionalists” tend to value familiarity, routine, and predictability. “Celebrationists” value spontaneity, people-pleasing, gift-giving, and merriment. “Connectionists” value togetherness, tend to be social and extraverted, and can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to be alone during the holidays.
“Knowing these things about yourself can help you be more authentic and intentional in your approach to holiday traditions going forward,” she says.
Adjust your expectations to be more authentic.
One of the most stressful parts of the holiday season is tied to the expectations that we set for them. It’s tempting to put pressure on yourself to give the ‘best gift ever’ or to throw a party that your friends and family will be dazzled by. However, it’s healthier to come from a place of realism and authenticity to avoid disappointment. The first step in doing this is to remove the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary, Dr. Dattilo says. “Telling yourself it ‘should’ be a certain way, just because it always has, may feel hollow, forced, and inauthentic,” she continues. “Instead, aim for authentic, not performative, celebrations. Get excited about doing new things and making new memories. It’s important for people not to minimize the ‘little things’ because the brain doesn’t know the difference between the big things and the little things — and there are far more moments of joy than we think.”
Change the environment.
For those ready for a big ‘ol change from their past holiday celebrations, it can be beneficial to step way outside of your comfort zone, says Dr. Bethany Cook, a licensed clinical psychologist. “If you’ve always had the traditional ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ type holiday, book some time in the sun,” she shares. “Or, if you like a traditional feel but don’t want it to be like the one you had growing up, change it up. Use a cactus as a Christmas tree or buy fancy/colorful Hanukkah candles. Instead of eating traditional foods, order take-away or pick a specific food style to eat.”
Get inspired by other non-traditional examples.
Want to try something new but not sure where to start? You can take inspiration from other families who have stepped away from their go-to traditions. When Tricia Kent first married into her husband’s Italian family, his mom would cook seven different fish dishes as part of their Christmas Eve celebration. It was new for Kent, and she grew to love it. While she has since divorced, she still wanted their two daughters to continue with the seven dishes ritual… but it required a lot of work, time, and money. “I’ve cut this down to one dish with seven different fishes within the dish. Our new Christmas Eve tradition is a beautiful cioppino filled with our favorite fish and shellfish,” she says.
For Elizabeth Blasi, a freelance writer, New Year’s isn’t a time for watching the ball drop on television or sipping champagne. Instead, it’s an opportunity to see a new corner of the world with her loved ones. “My family is a big reason I developed a love for traveling, and a community is always at its most authentic, hopeful, and welcome during the excitement of bringing in a new year,” she says.
So far, they’ve witnessed fireworks under the London Eye, cruised through the Panama Canal, watched locals shoot off homemade fireworks in Cusco, Peru, released lanterns in Chaing Mai, Thailand, and watched the mesmerizing show of fireworks coming from the largest building in the world, Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
“While 2020 was a different kind of year and was spent on a Zoom call with my family and loved ones, 2021 will be an interesting twist. My entire family and I will meet up at Orlando and watch the world showcase at Epcot,” she continues. “A twist on tradition, but because of the unknown travel restrictions, this is our way to experience our tradition together — masks and all!”