Christmas is upon us. It’s the time of year in which we commonly remember and participate in a variety of customs and traditions. These are wonderful things, our traditions, and they should be celebrated whenever possible. Not only during the various holidays of the year, but more commonly in our life’s routine.
In this context, the traditions I’m referring to are not only the peanuts and the orange I found in my Christmas stocking every year as a kid, or the trail of jelly beans the Easter Bunny placed from my kids bed to their Easter baskets lined up in the living room; they are also stories that are passed down and oft-repeated. They include making a specific family recipe involving two or three generations, or the goofy tradition my wife’s family has of secretly stashing a certain plastic frog in each other's belongings. They include innumerable other activities such going through the neighborhood to drop off goodies for May Day, roasting marshmallows at campfires, bedtime back scratches, going to church and having family dinner on Sundays, and routinely taking your grandkid for a specific treat.
Christmas is a particularly good time to reflect on why traditions are so important. Traditions and customs ground us. They provide a compass to where we fit in in the world, and create a sense of connection to those who came before us and worked to make our lives better. We derive both a sense of belonging and a feeling of security from traditions. In short, traditions remind us who we are and where we came from.
Traditions have been part of the fabric of our families and our communities for centuries, yet I believe there has never been a more important time to focus on them, nor a more difficult time to maintain them. In our digital world, we have in some ways become much more connected, making work more efficient, and accomplishing daily tasks more easily. But in another sense we have become less connected in our closest relationships. There never seems to be a moment that is unfilled with the activities the little gadget in the palm of your hand provides. Unfilled moments are opportunities to interact spontaneously, and they become the moments that create unanticipated communication, sharing, and memories, but those moments have become fewer.
Everything is faster-paced. The Millenial and Zoomer brains are so adapted to the pace, it seems that periods of time without visual and auditory stimulation become unsettling, or at least less familiar. But we all have fallen victim to some degree to the fast-paced digital world of hyperconnectivity to school and work, commerce, and entertainment, but at the expense of the slower-paced connectivity of face-to-face, comfortable, unscripted time with our loved ones. Tempering this tendency to find a healthier balance is critical, however, I think we need to accept it’s the world we live in. As always, we must adapt in whatever manner is necessary for our own benefit, and for the benefit of those we love. That’s where the awareness of the need for tradition comes in. As we are all flying about, separately and independently, on the interwebs and the clouds, we need to provide an anchoring force to come back to earth, to a familiar, reassuring, comfortable spot in this world that we know we belong. Traditions are a type of that anchor. They are how we experience our roots. Knowing that we have roots at all allows us to confidently jet back out into the digital world, because we know we always have a place to land.
It falls upon each of us to take the opportunity to carry on, restart, or create traditions. For those that you carry on, do it with intention. Be aware of the importance of them, and the great thing you are doing for your loved ones. If you had a tradition that was interrupted, whether a couple years ago, or decades ago, take time this year to restart it. If you’re at a bit of a loss, start a new one. Heck, steal someone else’s. Start or restart it with excitement and confidence, even in the face of eye rolls, because those rolling their eyes now will be the ones subjected to the eye-rolling in the future. If the kids are out of the house, or there aren’t kids, then spread your love to others. Neighbor kids, co-workers, friends, coffee group folks, etc. are all available for you to make a positive impact on their lives. Remember, this reliable, grounding, comforting activity I’m calling tradition can come in any form you choose, and can be shared with anyone you choose. It’s a lasting gift, in which you gain as much as those to whom you give it.