Thursday, September 24, 2009

Family Matters Seminar: Tradition!

Illustration by Stephen Cartwright

I think I'm totally normal, but then I discover that I think opposite of everyone else. I don't try to be different, or difficult. It just happens automatically.

Take traditions. I love creating traditions and remembering traditions. The thing I don't like about them is that they're so . . . well . . . you know, traditional! I hate being caught in a great idea that is past it's prime. I like to take a good tradition and tweak it to match ever changing participants and lifestyles.

Lundgren Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve when I was a little girl, my family and all my cousins and aunts and uncles went to Grama's house. There we had a traditional Swedish smorgasbord, including lutefisk and knackebrod, which my mom coaxed me to try. Uncle Allen and Aunt Ruthie directed a pageant called Christmas Around the World, complete with costumes and scenery. Twenty-four grandkids memorized songs and poems, and we even had a rehearsal! While the home movie camera lights blinded us all, we reenacted the Nativity and performed with relish. It was glorious and memorable.

Illustration by Stephen Cartwright

And then suddenly we all grew up. Some married and produced little actors and singers, but others produced rascals and party-poops. Inexperienced new in-laws turned on a football game during the festivities. Embarrassed cousins had to explain that Jr. didn't like to be on stage, and wasn't going to be a Wiseman that year.

The party had grown from the comfortable 1st generation to the prodigious 2nd generation, at least quadruple in size. Our little kids felt shy around their unknown second and third cousins. It had become an ordeal, not an anticipated event, but I insisted it was a tradition: we had to go. One year we got home very late, all of us tired and cross, and I realized it was time for the tradition to become a memory.

Stephen Cartwright

Plus, we had ideas for Christmas Eve. We were anxious to create our own holiday traditions to weld our little family. Bedtime needed to be observed so Christmas Day could start off with semi-rested, semi-cooperative kids, and to give us time to do our Santa magic. Dee and I had long discussions to bolster my courage before I broke the news. To prepare my mother ahead of time, I told her in February.

It was awful. Mom cried. Grama said, "I'd hoped I wouldn't live long enough to have the kids stop coming on Christmas Eve." I felt like I was stabbing my family in the back. Why couldn't they understand and support our desire to follow their example and create strong family ties with our own family?

The caught in the middle feeling haunted us. We decided that we didn't want to create that dilemma for our kids. We never wanted couples to argue with each other because of pressure we put on them. So we have some strategies. We often celebrate events on a different day, so there won't be a problem choosing between the families. This means that Dee and I have occasionally spent Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Mother's Day, and other traditional family days on our own. It has given us a chance to create some grown-up traditions, like eating out on Thanksgiving, brunch on Christmas morning, sleeping in on New Year's Day.

Our kids are always welcome, but never obligated. They don't have to give us explanations or excuses, or worry that we'll be hurt or lonely, or upset. At this point we're aware that our role is to support their families in the goals they set for themselves. We had our chance to create traditions, and now it's their opportunity.

Tradition is sometimes an explanation for acting without thinking. I grew up with lovely Sunday Dinners. Looking back, I realized my mom didn't go to Sunday School, and church for the family wasn't until 3:30 pm. Times were different.

Stephen Cartwright

But Sunday Dinner was a tradition. So, as a young mom, I used to go to church in the morning, and arrive home three hours later with seven tired, hungry kids. I'd frantically start mashing potatoes and making gravy while the whole gang whined and argued, waiting for food. I felt picked on. It was anything but lovely. One Sunday, while I changed clothes, Dee whipped up grilled cheese sandwiches. It was quick and easy and a total hit. Soon our tradition became grilled cheese, served on napkins instead of plates. Sundays became pleasant. Letting my mom's lovely dinner become a memory freed me to create a new tradition that worked for us.

I decided to make a tradition of making memories. I hate having events set in stone. One year we declared we'd go out to dinner for everybody's birthday. It worked well in March. But we couldn't afford it in June. Memorial Day had always meant a weekend vacation, but that year a baseball game at the playground was all we could manage. Making memories became the tradition. The Sunday night sing-a-long on Grama's back lawn is a memory, but a love of music is a tradition.

Illustration by Stephen Gammell

Monday night before Thanksgiving we had a tradition: plan that season's holiday activities. Everybody in the family could make suggestions: caroling, gingerbread houses, sugar cookies, etc. Then we'd choose from the list of traditions, and calendar the ones that would work that year. Caroling wasn't fun with a new baby—stringing popcorn would be better. It was too overwhelming to cram every fun thing we'd ever done into one season. It took the joy out of it.

Traditions are guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe and aren't even aware of. My childhood Christmas Eve party is a treasured memory, but the lasting tradition is a family who loves each other. That's what I want to pass on.

Homework: Do any or all. (Comment anonymously this time if you don't want to hurt feelings.)

~List five traditions you love. List another five that are past their prime, but are part of your life just because they're traditional. Idea:" I love making Valentine suckers, but the family sleepover is past its prime."

Illustration by Stephen Gammell

~Do you ever question or resent the way your family/in-law family handles holiday traditions? Have you ever said anything? What happened? Any tactful suggestions?

~Write about a tradition that has influenced your life in a positive way. Idea: "Our family always had family prayer before we opened the Christmas presents; my mom always wrote a letter to us on our birthdays; my grandpa always told us he loved us at Thanksgiving Dinner."

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.


Christie said...

Honestly, this is the greatest gift you could have given us all. The no-pressure attitude has been a lifesaver. Funny thing is, we all want to come and hang out with you anyway!

Sarah N said...

this year we are going home to the families between thanksgiving and christmas for two weeks - allowing us to continue the tradition of family gathering while giving us the chance to start our own family traditions by waking up in our own house with our wee one on christmas morning and i am giddy with glee!

The Grandmother Here said...

I remember the first Christmas with my in-laws. Everyone tore into their presents at the same time. Discarded wrapping paper became knee-deep. Where was the joy of giving where you watched someone open the present you had given them? Where was the gratitude of looking someone in the eye to say Thank You?

Abby said...

I love this post. I don't even know if I have 5 traditions, but let me start with Christmas Eve. My mom throws a Christmas eve party every year with Grama Bagley's homemade chicken noodle soup. Some family comes from both sides, some friends come, its a no pressure who ever can make it. Since I've gotten married I now have to switch off years. I miss the party I've always known, but it is also nice to have started this tradition with my in-laws.

The one tradition I won't break no matter what is christmas morning omelets. My dad makes omelets for us every Christmas morning. We've gone to my parents house at 8 for breakfast when I had to rush home for lunch with the Latimers, but I won't miss this tradition. It has also been nice to get together in the morning and then have the rest of the day to ourselves to relax or go see a movie.

The one thing I would say is once you have in-laws its important to try and make it fair. No one should be made to feel like the other family is always put first. I have always tried hard to make sure I have a good relationship with my in-laws and that they understand we try to make our time fair between the families.

Mrs. Organic said...

My family never left on a trip without saying a prayer, it's something that has stayed with me.

Here's my list of traditions I love and those I'd change. I haven't given enough importance to tradition in my own family unit, but I'm working to change that.

Diane Linford said...

You took the words right out of my mouth - no tradition is worth keeping that makes anyone miserable. Making memories is what it's all about, and that's how great traditions become and evolve.

I am big on "we'd love to have you, but if you can't make it, that's okay." I don't really want to elaborate on how that attitude came about!

Here's my assignment: wk 4 assign 4

audrey said...

Wonderful, wonderful! This was a fabulous post. You and I must be on the same wave-length because I wrote a post on Tuesday about a tradition we have.

Here's the one I wrote on Tuesday.

Here's the one I wrote today.

diane said...

I love your take on traditions and I share a similar view. We don't live near family so we have made our own celebrations.

We eat out on Thanksgiving.

We spend Christmas Eve with friends and have had a game night with another family for the past few Christmases.

I want to give my kids the same gift of no expectations for the holidays. I have asked that everyone comr home Christmas 2010 because my son will be home from his mission. Can't wait.

KJ said...

It's wonderful to hear a grandmother say she understands that young families sometimes need to do their own thing, which isn't always going to be her thing. The pressure from my in-laws is pretty intense to the point we just don't want to go at all, let alone compromise. We finally just had to say to all the siblings, "this is how it is and if you take it personally it's your own problem because we are just doing what works!"

Misty said...

I've been singin' it all day:
The Daughter, The Daughter. Tradition!

sue-donym said...

The dog ate my homework. That's why this is late.

Allison said...

whoops, late again.


dalene said...

done. and now i'm tired just thinking about it already!

but thanks for the suggestions about sunday. i'm going to try to simplify my sundays.

Monica said...

I love this post. I am struggling right now to establish traditions with my husband and children but I feel so much more motivated after reading what you had to say.

Tiffany said...

This was validating and inspiring to me! I'm going to save this one for a long, long time.

~j. said...

Here's ours, short and sweet!