Introducing new family traditions

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Introducing New Family TraditionsTradition is a big part of the holiday season. The idea of a “new tradition” is an oxymoron like a little big idea or a serious joke. According to the dictionary, tradition is “a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time.” For most of the year, we might not give tradition much thought but around the holidays, we do and with mixed families it can be a challenge to please everybody.

Let’s ask ourselves a few questions about tradition

  • What happens when tradition loses its meaning due to changing conditions or new demands?
  • What happens when we lose touch with the religious beliefs that gave meaning to some of our traditional practices?
  • What happens when couples from different cultural and religious backgrounds get together (or separate)?
  • What happens when some of the traditions we practiced are hurtful to ourselves or others outside of our family or group?

Many of our traditions are rooted in religious beliefs and associated cultural practices. Because of the timeless nature of those religions and their enduring connection to the larger society, these traditions often continue to hold meaning and are useful in creating a sense of connection to others and create continuity across the generations. They help us celebrate, mourn and recover from loss and sorrow together. The classic and beautiful musical Fiddler on the Roof explored these concepts brilliantly.

Coming together and having positive social connections is essential for mental health. Tradition is the glue that binds. Creating new traditions helps us respond to modern life and our evolving cultural mosaic while staying true to our basic needs and values. It’s important for families to thoughtfully create new traditions that work in our evolving culture that includes cross-cultural marriages, remarriage, gay marriage and blended families.

When it comes to our cultural roots, appearances can be deceiving. My late husband was a visible minority and afifth generation Canadian. Despite appearances, we had many values and traditions in common that we held dear enough to share with our children. We grew up with the same foods and observed the same celebrations, in a similar way. Just the same, we created our own family traditions with variations on the main themes. We rejected some old traditions starting with the wedding; we created our own vows, removed the promise to “obey,” and I kept my own last name. Yes, this was a long time ago and society and culture have since changed so these things now seem normal rather than a break from tradition. Years later, when my husband died, I found many of the traditions regarding death no longer worked for me and my family, but still we struggled to find new ways that fit our values and needs.

Individual and family traditions, to be true, need to stand the test of time to help shape the traditions of the larger culture. I know that sounds like a rather grand plan. However, on a small scale we can create new traditions by thinking about how to best support family and its individual members through the life cycle, keeping the old and experimenting with the new. Out of these experiments, new traditions will evolve on a small and large scale.

To create new traditions in your own life, consider these questions with your loved ones:

  • What are our values and what do we believe in?
  • What practices best support our beliefs and the kind of lifestyle that we want for ourselves?
  • What old traditions can be kept, perhaps with modification, and how can new ideas and practices become traditional?

When your basic beliefs fit with the larger community, you may find that your new traditions resonate with the larger culture. Tradition is about repeated meaningful practices that bring us together in the present and across the generations. I leave you with this question: What new traditions would you like to create?

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