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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Holiday Traditions… to keep…skip…or break

Updated: May 8, 2023

holiday decorations in city

What holiday traditions do you hold near and dear?

Are there certain decorations, events, rituals, songs, and foods that you associate with the holidays? Do you feel like something is “missing” when you don’t practice a particular tradition?

My favorite holiday traditions

Some of my favorite holiday traditions include putting up a Christmas tree and decorating the house with candles, greenery, nativity sets, a Christmas village, and homemade wall hangings. We still hang our children’s stockings on the mantel and have added ones for the grandkids.

We light candles on an Advent wreath and use an Advent calendar to help count down the weeks and days before Christmas.

A basket of Christmas books sits beside the fireplace ready to read each year. One favorite story we read, often en route to see Christmas lights, is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

We ask “Alexa” to play Christmas carols and sing along. The Christmas cookies that are our family’s favorites are the ones my father made every year using recipes passed down from his mother. Mmmm… the smells of holiday baking!

Christmas events, not to be missed, include the annual Purdue Christmas Show, hosting a Christmas party for friends (this year is our 37th), and attending a Christmas Eve service at church.

As our children left home, married, and had families of their own, when and where we open gifts and have a traditional holiday meal varies. Flexibility in how we experience holidays is key.

This year we are hosting a couple of dozen members of our extended family and will be having special meals for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and a 90th Birthday Party for my mother the day after Christmas.

Why are traditions such an important part of our holiday celebrations?

As Tevye explains it in the opening song to Fiddler on the Roof, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years.” He goes on to sing about how our traditions help us know ourselves and what is expected of us.

Imagine entering the holidays with no traditions to follow and guide you. Instead, each year you need to decide how to celebrate. No getting decorations out from the year before. Rather, all of your planning would be totally starting from scratch. That would not only be more stressful but probably also less meaningful.

What role do traditions play?

  • Traditions nurture relationships and strengthen family and community bonds.

  • Traditions build a sense of identity and belonging.

  • Traditions create positive memories.

  • Traditions provide comfort and security.

  • Traditions reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Traditions pass along cultural values from generation to generation.

  • Traditions provide a purpose for gathering together.

What other reasons can you think of?

Can traditions be skipped?

What about when a life event or situation prevents us from honoring a tradition? Is our holiday ruined? No. Far from it.

As Tevye learned in “Fiddler,” sometimes traditions need to be broken with something new taking its place. Sometimes we need to skip a tradition, knowing that upholding it is unrealistic.

When traditions bring joy and reduce stress, honor them. When they become too difficult to maintain, let them go. As the Grinch learned, the holidays mean much more than the traditions we use to celebrate.

If you find yourself away from your family or community this holiday or are transitioning to a new family and community, share your traditions and create some new ones.

“Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!” ~ Tevye, in “Tradition” from “The Fiddler on the Roof” musical, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

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