Making—and Breaking—Holiday Traditions

Like most families, mine has an extensive list of must-do holiday activities. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, I write out this list in red and green markers and post it on our refrigerator: Visit Santa. Go to the Gingerbread Village. See the light display at the zoo. Weekend away in the snowy mountains.

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The list has gone mostly unchanged for the past few years. We’ve found our favorite festivities and have dutifully stuck to them, crossing each item off the list. And I love every single list item; nothing has become tradition out of indifferent obligation.

But this year is different. We moved out of the city and are farther from where most of our usual holiday festivities take place. Plus, my husband and I decided to spend Christmas with our family on the other side of the country. But with air travel being such an expensive hassle, we came up with the idea to road trip it thousands of miles to the east coast.

As I mapped out our itinerary, I also planned which holiday events we could make it to in Seattle before we left. With a heavy heart, I began crossing activities off the list. Actually, I didn’t even make the list this year, so I only pictured it in my mind and imagined myself sadly striking off tradition after tradition.

At first, I felt like I was betraying my children, and myself. What would Christmastime be without this one, particular light show? Or this one specific mountain town we’ve visited for years? How could I deprive my kids of these carefully curated traditions? Those were my first thoughts. But I got hung up on that phrase “carefully curated” (because those specific words popped in my head.) All of the traditions we held fast to over the years have been special and meaningful, but also arbitrary in a sense. There was no guidebook telling us that these are mandatory Christmas events, or that if we don’t follow precise instructions, our holidays will be a total fail. They were chosen by me, because we all enjoy them, and they can be broken by any one of us if the need arises.

This year, we’ll make different memories. And given the uniqueness of our trip, this year will most likely stand out as the incredible December we saw the Grand Canyon, visited New Orleans, and woke up on Christmas morning in my childhood home. Next year, we can return to the usual traditions. Or maybe, we’ll find a new tree lighting we’d like to attend or decide that the kids are too old to visit another Christmas destination.

Every year is different and comes with its own set of circumstances. If I try to stubbornly cling to old traditions, there are other things we might miss out on. Next year, I’ll make our Christmas activity list, and I’m sure we’ll all have a wonderful time at every special holiday event. Maybe next December, after skipping a year of the familiar Christmas routines, they’ll be even more cozy and comforting to us.

Christie is a writer, literacy advocate, and homeschooling mom to two little ones. A former elementary school teacher, she writes about education, parenting, and literature for a variety of online publications. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, nature walks, and touring the Seattle bakery scene.


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