We all have that friend. That person in your world that bucks the mainstream and does their own thing. Recently such a person in my circle posted about how they don’t celebrate many national holidays, but instead, as a family have chosen to make new traditions that align more with their values. I have to admit, my initial reaction was somewhere along the lines of, “Oh, come on. What’s the big deal about celebrating gratitude with a meal surrounded by loved ones?” I read the post a few days ago and find that I am still thinking about it as well as the online conversation that followed. Linked to her thoughts was an article about the Wampanoag side of the First Thanksgiving.
Knowing that much of what we were taught in grade school was watered down, polished up, and neatly packaged, I read the article and followed the conversation as others chimed in. Despite various opinions, the general consensus was that it’s good to question why we do the things we do.
Are we really celebrating Pilgrims, or Native American culture on Thanksgiving?
Are we celebrating a kick-off to excess spending and holiday shopping?
Are we just there to catch the game, a retail parade, and some food?
Are we celebrating a posture of gratefulness, gathering with loved ones for a meal?
Are we only getting together because that’s what we’ve always done?
Are we staring at our phones waiting for the time to tick by until we can leave a place we really didn’t want to be?
Why do celebrate the way we do?
Should we celebrate at all?
As a military family, it just isn’t possible for us to do things the same every single year. Often we have to make up new traditions for our children because who knows where we will be stationed next. (In Hawaii, for example, it’s kind of hard to build a snowman!) As a family with little ones, we’ve decided that we will mostly not travel on holidays. (It kind of ruins Christmas for a kid who spends the day in the car house hopping for hours on end.) But that’s just us, and our doors are always open for any family and friends that would like to join us. We evaluated what works and what doesn’t and made our own tradition.
In the same vein, I found myself over the past few years reevaluating our traditions around food, in part because our son doesn’t eat a large variety of foods, but also because over the last few years, we have converted to a generally more healthful diet. This year we did a smoked turkey breast (because it’s essentially 2.2 people eating it, why do we need an ENTIRE turkey?), roasted garlic green beans, rustic potatoes (rustic=mashed with skins on), some chopped salad, and diced canteloupe. No gravy (we just don’t eat it). No store-bought dinner rolls. Do we need to make apple pie AND pumpkin pie AND cheesecake? No. So we didn’t do it. Last year we did all the traditional dishes (green bean casserole, dressing, etc.) but made everything from scratch. No matter how our menu changes from year to year, what I keep coming back to, is: if I wouldn’t buy the Stove-Top canister of “stuffing” any other day of the year because I don’t eat like that, why would I do it on a “special” day, just because that’s “what we’ve always done”. Will it cease to be a special day if I don’t gorge on food that makes me feel gross?
Most of us rarely question the why of what we do. We go through the motions of our lives, ticking the seasons down the calendar and it never occurs to us to take a moment and ponder the point, or the even the benefit, of our celebrations. While we personally celebrate Christ at Christmas and Easter, we don’t have to buy into the consumerism of these or any other Hallmark holiday. We can gather around a meal with loved ones and give thanks. We can use Santa as a metaphor for the wonder, innocence and magic of the Christmas season. We can do it however we like. Traditions can be comforting, sentimental, and wonderful, but if it no longer serves a purpose, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate.
What’s your favorite tradition? Have you ever considered “swimming upstream” to buck tradition and do your own thing? Do you have a person in your world that does life a little differently? Does that cause you to reconsider how you do things? Please share in the comments!