Creating Your Own Traditions (Not Somebody Else’s)

This morning I was cleaning out some “miscellaneous drawers” (aka “junk drawers” aka “drawers with the following things: a paperclip, hundreds of multiplying art projects and worksheets I couldn’t throw away at the time, books I meant to read but only read the first chapter or two, and assorted half burned candles.”) Also, a bird ornament.

As you can see, the wing broke off. It was in the drawer because (since Christmas) I’ve been planning to glue it back together. There’s a deeper story behind it though. See, I heard a story of someone who, when she moved out of the house, got a box of ornaments from her mom that were labeled with every year of her childhood. It seemed like such a beautiful idea. I thought to myself “I’m going to do that when I have children.” And so I started to do it, sort of. In practice, it’s been a big mess. The ornaments are all in different boxes, some of the labels have fallen off, and the bird one with the broken wing was shoved in the drawer. If you know me, you know this project was probably doomed from the get go. It’s got a lot of steps that I’m not good at, and it requires things like cataloging and organizing and labeling and storing things in the same place for 18 years in a row. This is not me.

I think I knew in my heart this tradition was not a good fit for me when I set about it, but there was a part of me that wanted to be a different person. I wanted (want?) to be the type of person who can easily keep track of ornaments every year and add to the pile and catalog them and then effortlessly turn them over after 18 years. The truth is, I’m not that kind of person. The fact that this ornament was sitting in my drawer, broken, for almost a year was a pretty good indicator. And so, I threw it away, along with the whole idea. “I’m not going to do that,” I said to myself. I felt lighter when I threw that ornament away because I freed myself of the burden of having to stress out about this for another 18 years. (My youngest is still a baby, I would have had to start with her first ornament this year.)

You know what? It’s totally fine. My children will grow up decorating the tree, like I did. They’ll pick their favorites, like I did. They’ll leave home with a box of those ornaments, like I did. They won’t have a neatly organized and categorized box of ornaments that are labeled by date. Oh. Well. They never knew this was my original plan, and I don’t think their lives will be fundamentally different because of it. Good bye birdie ornament! Good bye unrealistic pressures and expectations!

Here’s the thing: a full 1/3 of Faithful Families is traditions. I love traditions, but I also believe they need to work for you and your family. What’s the use of a tradition if it’s going to stress you out, feel forced, or cause frustration? I fully embrace the idea that some families will read some of the many tradition ideas in Faithful Families and say “No way. That will not work in our house.”

Sometimes giving a tradition the boot is the best thing you can do. If the whole family is moaning and groaning over something that’s supposed to be fun or meaningful, it needs to go. If nobody can figure out why you do it, it also needs to go.

It reminds me of a story I heard one time. It’s one of those stories that gets passed around from preacher to preacher so I’m not sure of the original source, but the idea is something like this:

A child is watching his mother make the Christmas ham and notices she cuts off the ends before putting it in the pan. “Why do you do that?” he asks.

The child’s mother (or father as the case may be, certainly moms aren’t the only ones who prepare the Christmas ham, right? RIGHT?!) replies “I don’t know, go ask your grandmother.”

Off the child goes to ask grandma. “Grandma, why do we cut the ends off the Christmas ham?”

“I don’t know, ask great grandma.”

Off the child goes to ask his great grandma. “Great grandma, why do we cut off the ends of the Christmas ham?”

“Oh for pity’s sake” great grandma replies, “It was just because I didn’t have a big enough pan.”

[cue knowing laughter]

It’s ok to retire traditions that are out of date and not of use. Traditions can also be good for a season. Perhaps there’s one that resonates while children are young. Conversely, why not pick up new traditions when children are older? One of the things I hear a lot when I speak about Faithful Families is “I wish I had this book when my children were younger.” I understand why people say that: it’s fun to think about “starting over” and trying something new. At the same time, it’s never too late to start a new tradition. When I was in Seminary my parents hid Easter Eggs for all of my friends. We were in our early 20s, and it was a blast.

What about you? What traditions are you ready to retire? Which ones feel like they’re more “trouble than they’re worth?”

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