Holiday Self-Care Series: Could Your Holiday Traditions Use a Re-Model?

Welcome back to my holiday self-care series.  This is the second post of four, and if you missed last week’s post about offering yourself some compassion for holiday choices, you can find it right here.  This week we’re going to take a peek at one of the things that can cause a lot of stress during the holidays: your family traditions.  Many clients tell me that they feel pressured to recreate the same experiences or same foods that they had growing up.  The pressure to recreate holiday traditions can become even greater if you are ill, or someone in the family has key health needs. Holiday traditions can feel empty if you have recently lost a loved one.

So, if you are thinking about the next three weeks with a sense of dread instead of anticipation, take heart.  If you want to share a caring, memorable holiday with your loved ones, but the thought of doing that is overwhelming and exhausting, this post is for you. One theme that I hear a lot when people are talking about traditions is the sense of pressure to “get it right.”  I’ve been thinking about that pressure, and I thought I would share the key questions I ask clients in my office when this topic comes up.

Essential Questions

If you feel as though there is a tradition weighing on you, here are the questions I ask in my office:

  • What is the purpose or goal of that tradition?  What is it’s core meaning? — This question is to encourage you to think more about the roots and purpose of the tradition.  Why did your family start doing what you do?  How do you feel when you remember this tradition?  How do others in your family feel when they describe it?  Naming the core meaning of the tradition can go a long way toward making it feel more manageable.
  • Could there that core meaning be honored even if you do things in a different way? — This is where the self-care comes in.  There can be a lot of reasons that you may want or need to change the actual behaviors involved in a tradition: a loss, changes in your health, a loved one who is sick, an allergy in the family, changes in job schedule, etc.  If you can state the core meaning of a tradition, that leaves you room to honor the spirit.

Can You Revolutionize Your Tradition?

Here’s my two cents: I think that holiday traditions should bring you together with the people you care about.  I think that they should have the potential to create great memories.  If a “traditional” activity is creating more stress than connection, it’s time to use the essential questions.  And don’t be afraid to let traditions grow and stretch.  Changing a tradition can let the tradition reflect your own unique contribution to a community or family.

So here’s the self-care challenge for the week.  Use the essential questions on one holiday tradition (can be big or small).  If the tradition needs some tweaking, bring your creativity to bear.  How can you honor the spirit and also honor where you are right now?  Please feel free to share in the comments.


Image Credit: Photo by Quiltsalad via Flickr


8 thoughts on “Holiday Self-Care Series: Could Your Holiday Traditions Use a Re-Model?

  1. Thank you so much for giving everyone permission to revamp their holiday traditions. Our family traditions all changed significantly when my brothers and I started getting married and having in-laws to celebrate with, too. More has changed with my dad becoming disabled. I’m glad that my family (and my husband’s, too!) are very flexible with changing and adapting holiday traditions to fit the circumstances on a particular year. It always is a special, loving time anyway.

    1. Rachelle,

      Our family is good at being flexible too. With a nurse and a law enforcement officer in the family, we have to be willing to change things up. We have learned that what matters is the time together, not the way that it looks.


  2. Very nice article for my family 🙂 I am committed to making some changes to lessen the holiday stress, but so far my family doesn’t want to buy in. I guess they can keep the big traditions and I will just enjoy them while I cut back.

  3. I tweaked a holiday tradition years ago. My St. Lucia prep is baking cinnamon rolls rather than Lucia rolls (rather time consuming) a day or two ahead of time. That way we can actually sleep before celebrating. And, on a dark cold morning, breakfast by candlelight and Christmas carols is a wonderful start to the day.

    I do have fond memories of making Lucia rolls with a friend from Sweden during college finals and serving coffee & rolls in our hall. But, being older and wiser, I like sleep while holding that experience in my heart.

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