The holidays are fast approaching and with them the madness, the mayhem and chaos. I love holidays. I love celebrations and traditions. Spending time with family. The food, the games and gifts. Everything about the holiday season enchants me. Except the stuff. The mindless spending that results in more stuff. Stuff to be kept and cleaned and stored and organized. Since embracing minimalism within the last year, “stuff” and I haven’t been getting along. I used to drive past a garage sale and couldn’t resist the urge to go buy something. Who knows what good deals might be lurking on those crowded, disheveled tables? But to honest, the stuff I buy at a garage sale this year will likely end up in my own garage sale next year. So much of what we have in our own homes is unnecessary and un-used. And so much of what we give and receive during the holidays adds to the clutter and junk in our lives. It provides temporary entertainment upon being opened, but then gets added to the collection of “stuff” in our lives. Many parents face this dilemma each year. How to make Christmas special without spending too much and feeding commercialism. There are lots of good ideas for gift giving, that will simplify life. I personally like to focus on gifts that provide long lasting memories and experiences. On a practical side, I tend to follow the gift formula of “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.” This tends to reign in unrealistic expectations from my kids of the endless supply gifts they might otherwise expect. But, lets be honest. I also want each holiday to be wonderful and full of sweet moments that my family will forever treasure in their memories. I want my kids to have lots of reasons to visit home when they are grown and gone.
In talking to friends, I have noticed that the word “tradition” is loaded. For some people it gives them warm fuzzies, but for others, it conveys something strict and unmoving. They shy away from it, because it held them back or tied them down. But in our family, traditions help us mark the seasons and holidays. They evolve over time as our family changes and grows, but still give us a sense of anticipation, looking forward to the sweet and familiar. We have several types of traditions that make our family holidays charmingly predictable and we all look forward to different ones for different reasons.
1. Foods. Let’s be honest. Food is important all the time, but people throughout history have used food to celebrate both important, moments occasions as well as everyday triumphs. Food traditions make your mouth water and the process of preparing and feasting on certain favorites together is very bonding. In our family every holiday “feast” is looked forward to with glee. Every member of the family gets to choose one dish and is responsible for preparing (or if you are a little person, as least helping) with that dish. This makes it fun and interesting, because there will aways be some family members who choose the same thing and always some that introduce something new. This also assures that there is something that everyone likes.
On Christmas morning we always have eggs benedict, which is a tradition my husband brought from his family. We have it down to a science, the various tasks involved and the assembly line to make them efficiently.
Sometimes food traditions get started on accident, like a few years ago when I made bread bowls for pumpkin soup in the Fall. Now, as soon as my kids start seeing pumpkins in the stores each year, they start begging for “pumpkin soup in bread bowl”, as part of the Autumn festivities. I didn’t do this on purpose and to be honest, making bread bowls is a lot of work and perhaps not my favorite tradition. But they love it and look forward to it!
2. Games. Different families have different activities or games that they come back to again and again. For some it’s a white elephant gift exchange, others do treasure and scavenger hunts. Our family plays games. Literally. We play board games. Rather obsessively. This is the one area in which I find I cannot minimalize our collection, because everyone loves all our board games so much. And its the thing everyone looks forward to doing when we all gather with extended family for the holidays. We even invented “the ‘game’ game” in which we put all the titles of games in a hat to draw from in order to choose which game to play first. Yes, we take it very seriously… and delight in every moment.
3. Music. I can’t think of anything that ties into memory and draws out human emotion as much as music. Have you ever heard a song on the radio and suddenly you were transported through time to a different moment or one that makes you think of a certain person. Different music takes me back to different times in my life, reminding me of who I was before… before I was a mom or a wife… before I was a musician myself. That being said, music is very important to me, but I know I am not alone ion that. In our family there is almost always Christmas caroling, if no other time than my birthday (which is close to Christmas). As a music teacher I love assigning Christmas favorites to my students as the season approaches and enjoying their enjoyment of it. To be honest, I am not a big fan of the repetition of carols played in malls and stores, but I absolutely love group singing and Christmas is one of the few times that I can talk all of my family and friends in participating in a sing-along.
Music is also used as a tradition in other ways, such as a couple having “their song” or a certain album you always listen to when you clean, because it puts in you your zone. I like to find ways to use this to bring my family close together. Having an album of favorites that everyone loves can help pass the time on family road trips.
4. Gratitude and Generosity. Thankfulness and giving of ourselves is something learned by example. I love when I see families volunteer together at the holidays or any other time. Filling shoeboxes for military or the needy, donating to a reputable charity or practicing random acts of kindness are all ways to teach our kids to give.
My kids also participate in regular “purges” to help us declutter. Getting rid of excess helps them (and me) take better care of and appreciate the things we do have. It also helps us realize how little we really need to be happy. Which takes us full circle to where I began. That excess and gifts galore do not lead to lasting happiness. Time spent with the ones we love and simple, sweet memories are what fill our hearts with cherished treasures.
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