Thursday, December 07, 2006

Changing Traditions

By Nichole Giles

Everyone has his or her own version of the best way to spend the holidays. Maybe you like water-skiing in the Arctic, or going to visit Santa’s reindeer at the zoo. I always thought it would be fun to decorate a palm tree instead of a fir tree.

Perhaps we are carrying on traditions handed down for several generations, or maybe picking up on a neighbor’s, or the milk-man’s, or someone else’s handed down tradition. Our parents did things a certain way, probably a carry-over of something our grandparents started. Our spouse might have grown up doing something entirely different, because their parents did things that way. Some of us have a strong desire to start holiday traditions of our own. Whatever our traditions, we do our best to make the entire season memorable for our families.

It’s not that we don’t think the traditions of our parents or grandparents are wonderful. It’s not even that we don’t think the ideas are important. It is simply that as we grow older, we have a strong need to forge our own paths with our spouse and children.

This might mean taking original traditions and changing them to suit our needs. For instance, my family had a tradition of unwrapping new pajamas on Christmas Eve. It’s not an unusual tradition, and it is kind of fun. But what if my brother gets married and his new wife doesn’t wear pajamas? Or what if my son insists on wearing only his underwear to bed? That makes the pajama tradition a little difficult. Imagine having your grandmother buy you underwear for Christmas Eve and then expect you to put it on and model it for everyone before you pose in the family picture she intends to hang on her living room wall. At that point, I’d guess it’s time for tradition to evolve.

Gary’s family has had a traditional Santa Claus party since before Gary was born. They sit around and play games, and sing songs, and then Santa comes to their house and brings them all a present to open. But times change, and kids grow up. The Santa party continued through Gary’s teenage years because his older siblings had children who enjoyed it. Then we had children who enjoyed it too. But what do you do when even the grandkids don’t believe in Santa anymore? Or worse, when the Santa Claus who has been coming to Grandma’s house for nearly thirty years dies of cancer? You can’t exactly tell the little kids Santa is dead. And a replacement Santa is never the same as the original. (Although I think Tim Allen makes a great Santa.) Time to change again.

Someone in our ward was quite insistent the other day in telling us that all Christmas music should be instrumental. She truly believed that was the way to invite the spirit to our ward Christmas party. I beg to differ. Words can be amazing things, and traditionally—even in church hymns—words are instrumental in not only inviting the spirit, but also strengthening and encouraging it. That is why I write. But, that kind sister is still entitled to her opinion.

There will always be the family member—or ward member—who opposes tradition changes. But life is all about changes. We cannot stop them, or avoid them, so we have to roll with them and adjust. That is the beauty of free agency, the wonder of the gifts we have all been given. We can make our own traditions, and we can forge our own paths. If we keep an open mind, the spirit will stay with us no matter how we choose to spend our holiday.

So when you open the Spongebob Squarepants underwear that your grandma bought you, you can smile and say, “Thank you, Grandma! I love new underwear.” And for future reference you can mention, “I’ve been converted into Pajamaism, so next year I’d love purple satin, please.” And then break out into spontaneous song at the top of your lungs while dancing around under your Christmas-palm-tree.

“We wish you a merry Christmas. We wish you a merry Christmas. We…” Well, you get the idea.


Anonymous said...

Good advice, and well written.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. Happy Holidays!