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It is hard to believe it is almost that time of year.  As we enter the holiday season, you can almost smell gingerbread and panic in the air. In order to keep our anxiety in check, most of us find comfort in maintaining familiar traditions. Intentionally or not, many families find that traditions evolve to tell the story of the family.  They emphasize important events within the biological, adoptive or extended family to bring people closer together in a way that simply “time together” does not. However, there are instances in which we must break from what we know because of new circumstances.

Holiday traditions may change due to new in-laws, marrying someone of a different faith, divorce, death, or a job transfer – just to name a few.  While there is a comfort in adhering to the familiar, any of these situations may require a person to evolve and adjust to new ways of celebrating.  When customs need to be changed it can be unsettling but try to see it as an opportunity to be creative.  Begin by asking yourself, “How would you arrange the holidays if you were in charge of the world?” Then, consider the following suggestions to help with adapting to new traditions: 

  • What is important to you and your family? Start by having everyone make a list of what they truly enjoy about the  holidays. Ask them to fill in the blank, “It wouldn’t be a holiday without _______.”
  • Set healthy boundaries with difficult family members. Keep your expectations realistic.  You and your family have made your lists of what is important to you. Don’t let someone else inflict their expectations on you.
  • Know when to say no, when it doesn’t fit with the values and priorities you have set for yourself and for your family.
  • Challenge unrealistic expectations. Whether it’s your own expectation or those of others, if it’s adding stress to you or any member of your household, examine it in relation to the lists you have made.
  • Let go of what doesn’t work. This is one of the most important. For whatever reason, the old way is no longer working. Be grateful it served its purpose in the past and let it go. There is a story my husband often tells called, “The Pot Roast Principle:”

A woman was once preparing a roast when her daughter asked why she always cut the ends off the roast.  The woman replied, it is what your grandmother always did, so it must make the roast taste better. After seeing doubt in her daughter’s expression, she added, you would have to ask your grandmother why it helps. The  daughter called her grandmother and asked why she always cut off the ends of the roast, and the grandmother replied. “Because I didn’t have a pan big enough.” 

This parable teaches the importance of understanding the ‘whys’ of rituals. To have value, the reasons behind a tradition must be appreciated. As family and traditions evolve, the security of the family provides a safe environment to learn to manage and even cope with the stress that usually accompanies change.  Since you’ve set priorities with everyone’s input, now is the time to involve everyone in accomplishing the new reality. As the Universalist Minister Maureen Killoran stated, “Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response to what happens, and response is something we can choose.” Hoping you have a joyous holiday season.

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