I never quite realized the gravity of experiencing a tradition until I lost someone I loved. At first, having a baby made the traditions around the holidays much better and more exciting. I decided that we would be a decorate-for-Christmas-the-day-after-Thanksgiving family and that the kids would get Christmas p.j.s and that I’d always participate in my girlfriends’ cookie competition. These fun little nuances are a way to bookmark chapters in my life – to slow down the racing speed of my calendar and to give me something fun to look forward to.
Once my father passed away, I realized what traditions can really do for you – transport you. Honor parts of you that you tuck away and only glance at occasionally with misty eyes. Tap you into your innate senses and help your life have a line of cohesiveness. A common thread that only your heart knows the path for.
Now, when I make lemon bars for Thanksgiving dessert I’ll think of the special treat my dad loved and how he’d eat half a pan, straight out of the pan, in the kitchen I grew up in. Each November I’ll put out my Frasier Fir scented candles, to remind me of soap that he always had in the cabin year round because it smells so good. And the scent of hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks, in cold hands around a paper cup will always make me think of cutting down a Christmas tree in the rain with my mom.
Even memories of people I haven’t lost (thank the Lord, my mom is still here) have more weight and mean something. They take you to a time and place, usually more simple. With its own happiness – a version different than the one you have today, because we grow and change and so does our happy. With the introduction of true sadness, happiness changes as well. It gets bigger.
What I’ve found with any tradition that I have, from a Spring bird hunt with my Step-dad to baking Valentine’s Day lasagne with my husband, is that it’s about someone folding you into something they love, and you embracing it as your own alongside them. Incorporating crumbs from your past into this year’s dough.
When it comes to creating your own traditions, think about what you love – usually earmarked by a special occasion or season. And then decide it’s something you’ll do each year, or keep trying something fun and new until the right event sticks. Most traditions are built that way – you just keep doing what worked last year, until all of a sudden you have seven photos of you pulling a turkey out of the oven and kissing it. Yes, that’s a personal favorite of mine.
Some years you’ll try to make something happen again, and it won’t take off (Christmas carols at an old folks home just never stuck for my family), but that’s ok too. Find what works for you and revel in it. Force your children to participate, however reluctant they become. Some of my best memories exist because my parents drug me to it, listened to me whine for hours about it, or scolded me for rolling my eyes a thousand and one times but proceeded anyways.
If you’re looking to add some fun this year, here are a list of my top 10 favorite Winter traditions:
- Making my Dad’s Chili
- Watching the new Hallmark holiday movies
- Cooking thanksgiving dinner – I always bake the turkey
- Decorating the day after thanksgiving and listening to Christmas music
- Holiday cookie exchange
- Cutting our own Christmas tree (or at least getting a live one)
- Seeing the Nutcracker
- Christmas pajamas
- Reading “The Night Before Christmas” aloud
- Making a list of the past year’s big moments to read to Joe on New Year’s Day
Each of these yearly celebrations has their own fun details, like the turkey kissing, and often they evolve over time. I’m always introducing fun new things that include more of the family or get us out to volunteer, which is a goal for the future. This year we may do one of those 5k Turkey Trots, but then again maybe that’s not for us (I have a sneaking feeling that it’s not).
Whatever you do, let it take you back through time and spread joy deeply into the lines of your face and the chambers of your heart. It’s worth it.