The other evening I sat down to address my holiday cards. While doing so, I realized how few people actually send greeting cards any more. For a period, e-cards were the rage. Many of them were clever, and they were easy and inexpensive to send. They also were uniform–few contained individual messages.
Then it occurred to me that what I particularly loved was not the cards, but getting notes that told me something about the sender’s past year, things such as family events or travel. Perhaps that is no longer necessary. We now get updates on a regular (almost daily) schedule, and facebook accounts chronicle our lives.
That led me to thinking about other customs that have changed. Gift giving has become more impersonal. Much of our shopping is now done online, and gift cards are big business. The common excuse is, “I don’t know what to get them, so I am sending a gift card.” It hardly seems worth it to give someone a gift card and have them give you one in exchange. That seems like a rather empty gesture.
Are holiday traditions important? Many would argue that they are. They are a way of honoring the past and passing on special memories and values. You may think about your grandmother while you are hanging her cherished ornament on your tree or lighting her menorah. Or you may recall the fun you had with your sisters when making special holiday preparations as children. Perhaps your family served traditional food for your holiday dinner, or they got together for brunch one time a year, or attended church or synagogue together.
Traditions end for many reasons. Society changes. Lives change. Families change. Individuals change. You may live hundreds of miles from family members. You may have time and/or financial constraints. Or perhaps, you never enjoyed certain traditions and were happy to have them stop.
Think about the traditions from your past. Decide which ones are meaningful (like sending personal cards is for me), and which ones you wish to continue or discard. Then add some new traditions of your own.
Most importantly, Do not let this season pass by without reaching out and really connecting with those you care about and with your community. Go visit that great aunt in the nursing facility. Call that old college roommate you have not heard from in ages. Drop off a holiday treat to the elderly couple down the street. Buy a toy for the “Toys for Tots” collection box. Donate items (or money) to the local food kitchen, or, better yet, help them prepare and serve a holiday meal. Send a package to members of the military who are serving overseas. Attend and help with a community program. Invite some friends over to watch a favorite holiday movie. Set up a FaceTime date with all of your siblings. The choices are varied and many.
Special holidays only come once a year. What sets them apart is not just tradition, which changes over time. Instead, it is the relating to and connecting with loved ones and friends that is its essence. That should be the one tradition that we all keep.
__Elizabeth J. ClarkPublished in