A version of the piece below was previously published in my monthly family column in The Fresno Bee on November 10, 2018.
Nevermind that some people I know are now decorating for Christmas before Halloween is fully over… when November rolls around, two themes continue to endure for me — gratitude and tradition. (And no, I don’t decorate my tree here until December 1, ha!)
I’ll start with gratitude: Last year (during a most terrible time of loss for my family) I wrote about challenging myself to give thanks when life turns tough — how we are all quick to automatically say thank you for the good in our lives, yet counting blessings during bad times also keeps us coping, living and dealing with life when it guts us. Saying thank you has repeatedly rescued me this year alone…
The power of saying “Thank you” does so much more than we immediately give it credit. For years, I’ve practically brainwashed my daughters to have those two mindful words at the front of their minds — whether someone gives them candy or whether we’re driving to school and say “Thank you God for this day” out loud. Saying “Thank you” has evolved into a sort of year-round, constant tradition in my family.
Which brings me to the other part of the approaching holiday season … tradition: We’ve all got our own recipes, gatherings and to-do’s, some of which can be time-consuming and/or expensive. Thanks to ongoing work projects, I’ve had countless child-development professionals explain to me how important it is that kids be raised with recurring family traditions — to keep them feeling connected, safe, confident and empathetic. The first time one of these experts said this to me, my knee-jerk response was, “”Take it down a notch, already! Like we all don’t already have enough to do. Who has time to invent extra ‘traditions’ between work/activities/errands and everything else we do as overbooked parents?”
I’m so tired of everything being over-the-top, of having things ‘we must do’ as parents.
And then, I was quickly and rightfully put in my place: “Traditions don’t need to be big,” my interviewee said with a calm smile. Oh. I checked my defensive panic at the door. I instantly got motivated to think about my own family history, our current family values and being present as a mom.
Traditions don’t need to be big. Life-changing words. The holiday-time traditions I remember as child were picking out our (real) Christmas tree, eating together, dressing up and singing around the piano while my mom accompanied us.
So what kinds of ongoing traditions happen at our house? I asked my daughters…
- Friday night movie nights — our family plops on the couch with popcorn and Netflix.
- Drawing pictures at the kitchen table before dinner — they draw, I cook.
- Making fast “ice cream breakfasts” when it’s hot outside — plain yogurt blended with frozen fruit.
- Reading books before bed — they read, I listen (and sometimes I read too).
- Going to church on Sundays — not easy (weekend mornings!), but worth it.
- Shopping for our (real) tree — after we pass the Thanksgiving threshold.
- Christmastime is baking/frosting cookies on Christmas Eve morning and wearing holiday PJs that night.
I also started a new tradition this year: Telling more everyday stories about my life as a little girl — things my mom would tell me growing up, things she’d most likely say to my girls now. (And yes, I say thank you, every day, that I am here to tell them these things …)
Not exciting enough for you?
Traditions don’t need to be big.
Whether we’re recreating that to-die-for pumpkin chiffon pie our Grandma used to make (the one that takes 2-3 rounds and countless hours of setting in the fridge, (thanks to the gelatin — a lesson I learned the hard way almost 10 years ago) or just saying “Thank you for this day” before morning drop-off with our kids — tradition keeps love thriving and binds families together, whether we’re in a holiday season or not.