Posted on | November 24, 2010 | 4 Comments
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. All over the U.S., turkeys that gave their lives in the name of tradition are being thawed and trussed. People are rushing through grocery stores and scurrying around kitchens filled the aromas of sage, cinnamon, gravy, and cranberries.
Me? I’m hanging out with my dog. And my kitchen smells like it always smells … probably a bit like wet dog, but we don’t need to talk about that.
I don’t have a big family. I’m an only child, and I’m childless. There’s just Tim and Ducky and my parents, who live down the street from us.
This year, we decided not to have the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. And I’m thrilled about it.
Thanksgiving dinner lost its appeal for me when I became a vegetarian in 1996. After that, I started wondering why gorging ourselves was the way to celebrate gratitude. Yes, I know that makes me almost anti-American. Please don’t throw yams at me.
But my parents still enjoyed the tradition, so we kept making the dinners. In the last three years, various crises have made it easier to go out to eat on Thanksgiving than cook the big meal.
Last year, I blew my step-dad’s mind when I announced that I’d cook dinner but I was making lobster tails, rice pilaf, and salad instead of the usual spread. In deference to his attachment to “the way it’s done,” I made pumpkin pies for dessert.
I found that meal delightfully freeing, and my parents found it surprisingly enjoyable. Mom said it was rather nice to savor a delicious meal and not be overstuffed at the end and facing a kitchen full of dirty dishes.
This year, the fact that we’re not having a meal at all feels even more freeing. Tim has to work on Thanksgiving, so we decided to have a quiet get-together with my parents before his shift, just to enjoy each other’s company, share some hugs and some laughs, and talk about what we have to be grateful for. That’s enough for me.
When Traditions Get Out Of Control
Family traditions are, of course, important. At their best, they create happy memories, and even at their worst, they act as a sort of adhesive that keeps us connected to loved ones. Experts suggest that traditions are essential to a child’s proper upbringing because they provide a much-needed predictability that creates a sense of security.
Even with these positive impacts, though, traditions can get too big for their britches. They can grow out of themselves, become larger than life, and in doing so, they become, not catalysts for joyful experiences but stressful pressures that create all sorts of negative feelings and therefore negative vibrations. In other words, traditions can do us more harm than good. Traditions, if we insist on keeping them perfectly, no matter what, can actually lead to some rather painful splats … big family arguments, burnt food, kitchen accidents, and the like.
Finding The Core
The key to having stress-free holidays and other traditions lies in finding the core of the ritual actions we perform. What’s the point of the tradition?
Thanksgiving, for example, isn’t about all the specific foods we each think we need to have on Thanksgiving. It’s also not about football, which is what has become a central aspect of many people’s Thanksgiving celebrations. I’m pretty sure the Pilgrims and Indians didn’t have football on TV.
Thanksgiving is about what its name suggests. It’s about celebrating the bounty of our lives. As such, does it require all the trimmings we think it has to have? Of course not.
The truth is that Thanksgiving celebrations can be whatever we want them to be. What matters is not what we DO but what we FEEL.
This is where holiday traditions often go wrong. We get so caught up in the specifics of them that we forget why we keep them. Around Thanksgiving, I often hear conversations about how stressed people are, how overworked, how they dread the arrival of this or that relative, how tired they are. Anyone who has these feelings about a holiday is ignoring the core of it all, the energy the tradition was meant to create.
The Thanksgiving tradition is about the energy of appreciation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a turkey to appreciate what I have.
The coming holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or any other tradition, isn’t about the decorations, the food, or the events that generally occur this time of year. They’re about love, about essence, about the wonder of life and our ability to take it in.
When you remember the core of why you do what you do when you keep a tradition, you can craft a version of the tradition that reflects and generates the feelings you want to celebrate. You can adjust it to fit the circumstances you’re currently in so it doesn’t blow budgets or stress you out.
So what if you don’t have those little marshmallows on your yams tomorrow. Do you have gratitude in your heart? So what if you don’t get the lights hung in a couple weeks or the tree just right or the candles where they’re supposed to be. Are you aglow with love and caring for the people in your life?
The perfect holiday isn’t about getting the food or the décor or the party just right. It’s about feeling just right. And you can choose to do that. Then you can celebrate it any way that keeps that feeling alive.
How’s that for a tradition worth keeping?
How about you? What traditions do you have that truly bring you happiness and feelings of gratitude and love?
Have you had any experiences with having non-traditional holidays that stand out as being some of the best times of your life?
Please share your stories. Let’s inspire each other to set up joyful holidays instead of holiday splats.