Monday, December 19, 2011

Appreciate Traditions

What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year?

My first thought immediately goes to family. My family (both those I am related to and those I'm not), have been a constant in my life this year and I've been most appreciative of them more so these last twelve months more than any other time. I have a feeling I probably took advantage of them in the past, but this year I've noticed how much they do for me. I've noticed how much they help me. I've noticed how solid they are.

Usually I keep my family at arm's length. I try not to bug them and bother them with my problems. They have their own things going on. Besides, my parents raised me to fend for myself. To not ask for help. To stand on my own two feet. So asking them for help this year was really really hard for me. I felt weak. I felt as though I wasn't doing what I needed to be doing with my life. I felt like a failure. But my family understood. They were the best sounding board any one could ask for. And for them, I am most appreciative.

This is the time of year when families are upholding decades old traditions and working to create new ones. Share your December traditions: how they got started, why you continue them, and why they are special to you.

This is an ironic question this year. This year so much has changed with me and my family. Traditions are being flipped on their heads. Things are changing. We are doing things differently this season. We need to be flexible this year. We need to welcome new traditions. We need to remember what this time of year is all about.

In the past, my family's tradition for Christmas morning had been to wake up early, brew some coffee, and open our stockings as my mom's famous egg casserole baked in the oven. When I was growing up it was just the four of us. But then I got a serious girl friend. She was included in our tradition, but it needed to be tweaked a bit. She had her own family traditions. Her dad always made omelets to order for everyone. They spent Christmas morning together. Her family is a more laid back, take-it-as-it-comes family. My family is more of a scheduled, this-needs-to-happen-now kind of family.

I remember the first Christmas Chantale joined us for Christmas brunch. Everyone was pacing around the kitchen and living room waiting for her car to pull up. The casserole was sitting in the oven keeping warm. The presents (other than hers) were all opened and sitting back under the tree. I could feel it coming. I knew my dad and my brother wanted to eat (so did I!), but I wanted to wait for her. She was a new part of my life. I wanted her to get the whole experience of my family's Christmas. Eventually she showed up (about a half hour after she promised she'd be there) and we all ate breakfast and opened gifts and enjoyed each others company.

And eventually Chantale became my wife and we continued the tradition of having Christmas morning at my parents' house. Her grandparents always had a Christmas Eve celebration at their house, so it all worked out. But things change. Grandparents pass away, aunts and uncles get separated, people move.

And that brings us to this year. My parents' house isn't my parents' house anymore. My brother has taken over the Christmas morning duties at his new apartment. My wife and I decided to switch things up and visit with her parents first thing on Christmas. Christmas Eve was always Nana and Papa's thing, and since they are no longer with us, and since my in-laws will be alone on Christmas, we decided to go to their house for omelets and presents and holiday cheer. This is a tradition that Chantale missed. And to be honest I was completely oblivious to it. I just brought her in on my family's tradition without any thoughts about what she was feeling. This is the way it's always done. And now my brother has a new girl friend. He gets to experience her family's traditions. Or not. I guess that's up to him.

I made the mistake of forcing my girl friend into my family's traditions years ago and I don't think that was the best idea. It's a better idea to try to find a happy medium. It's a better idea to experience new things. It's a better idea to remember that the holiday season is more about seeing and visiting and laughing with family (new and old) than it is about keeping to the same traditions that we've been sticking to for years and years. Change is hard. Trust me, I know. But change is not necessarily a bad thing. Change can be good. New experiences and new traditions can be a great experience.

But we need to be flexible. We need to welcome new traditions when things change. And sure, I'll miss my mom's world famous egg casserole, but I will get to experience my father-in-law's world famous omelets!

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