The Shadow of Tradition

“What disappoints us most in life is the picture in our heads of how it’s supposed to be.”

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Families traveled far and near to come together for their version of the holiday festivities. Many families took great joy out of their time together, finding peace and happiness in the company of those they love. Stories were shared and bellies were full of food that normally doesn’t cross the table the other 11 months of the year. Some families saved pennies and bargain shopped for what would be their most extravagant meal. When asked, others will proudly talk about the enormous preparation; the energy expended in the wee hours of morning or at the midnight hour to pull together a large gathering.

Typical American families consist of juggling two sets of family traditions in two separate parental households or a double income family hoping to invest in travel to both grandparents’ homesteads for equal expressions of love. These holiday plans can be exciting and busy! For some, they can be exhausting. This is when traditions are often maintained out of habit or even out of a level of sacrifice to meet expectations of those we love.

Many hold on to traditions for various reasons. Some find comfort in the rituals and expected outcomes so they maintain their rules of traditions. For others it’s a payment of homage to the loved ones that anchored our lives with their habits of joy. And then there are those that have no idea why it’s done a particular way except that it always is.

My own immediate family is spread over a geography as wide as Washington DC to Baton Rouge. Unfortunately our traditional expectations could not be kept with this level of distance between us. This created the need to let go of some ideals and re-invent our box of holiday happiness.

Since my family has scattered across the country, I have taken the time to evaluate our traditions. I weigh out the investment in each act that surrounds major holidays and ask myself the question “why” before laying an expectation down for myself and others. Suddenly, I realize the excitement and joy that could come out of re-aligning traditions.

It has been a most delicious Thanksgiving for me. Not because of a perfectly coiffed table setting with a bird in the middle, not even because my family members were able to join me all at once at a table setting. But because as traditions were quietly remembered and respectfully rolled between the finger and thumb of inspection in my mind, I let go of some that were impossible to maintain and created new ones.

When we let go of the burden of expectations that can weigh down the holiday joy, a whole new light sheds on our relationships. Suddenly we are not living in the shadow of a past life that no longer fits into our new life. Suddenly the visits with our most precious loved ones are open to new ideas, new memories, and the light-hearted dialogue of story telling. Every family has a set of traditions they hold with joy and expectant delight. But evaluating their value can open us up to a bigger tomorrow full of stories to recant to the next generation.

As you evaluate your holiday travels far and near, I ask you this: did you shine light on a bright reunion with no expectations? Or did you live in the shadow of past expectations, jailed in the box of what you think it should be because it’s just the way it has always been?

You can only lose what you cling to.  ~Buddha

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