Holiday traditions: To keep or start anew?

Yes, it is true, the holiday season has arrived and with it, family holiday traditions. It includes gatherings of friends and family, feasting, and warm, comfortable activities. Are there some traditions that must happen or is it time for them to change? What about new family traditions?

One such tradition that I happily got rid of was lutefisk and pickled watermelon rind on rye-krisp. Now don’t get me wrong. There was nothing more fun to watch than my grandfather lovingly placing his hard-to-find lutefisk on rye-krisp and slurping it down. It was great to see his delight when we made this available to him at every holiday event. I even pause a moment when I go through Scandinavian stores and see the lutefisk. But this tradition lost something after he died. And, of course, I never learned to enjoy the fine art of eating lutefisk.

But there are some family traditions that are harder to change. The great feast has always happened at your mother’s house, you always have a roast or ham, the table cloth must be great-great grandmother Zuber’s, etc. And what happens if you alter a family tradition? Are people left with disappointment? “Oh, I miss having dinner at mom’s house; remember the lutefisk?”

Every person in the family places his or her own value on holiday traditions. These predictable traditions can offer comfort and a roadmap of what is expected for each holiday. But what happens when a tradition becomes a burden? What if a loved one has died? It can be difficult to participate in the same family traditions while you are grieving. The value may still be there, but the effort may be overwhelming.

Communication is the key to deciding what traditions are more burdensome than others. By broaching the subject with all affected family members of whether or not to have the same holiday tradition, it is possible that a consensus may be reached. It can also help to focus the family on the true meaning and value of the most important traditions. This can be a great time to evaluate the balance between family obligation and your own self interest, create new holiday traditions, and fulfill your own great expectations during this holiday season.

Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist, has been working in the field of aging for 18 years. She provides social services to people 55+ and their families, who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at (206) 275-7752, e-mail, or mail MIYFS 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, Wash., 98040. Mercer Island Youth & Family Services is a department of the City of Mercer Island.

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