I remember walking through trees in the cold, the dewy needles brushing my wool coat, and the wet leaves sticking to my boots. Watching my breath cloud the air in front of me as I look up and around, searching for “the one”. I hear one of my brothers call out “this one!” and one by one we stake our claim, standing sentinel next to our tree of choice, knowing Mom or Dad has the final say. We critique each one for the perfect limb spacing, height, width, and bare spots, etc. The accursed bare spot that is the bane of picking out a live Christmas tree. When we find perfection, my brothers and my dad get to work with the saws, taking turns until one by one they’ve contributed their share of cuts, and down she goes. We happily traipse back to the farm entrance, our tree is tagged and bagged, or, well, netted, and we enjoy the complimentary hot chocolate while Dad meticulously ties it to the top of the car. We cut down our Christmas tree every year. Every year, except one, when much to my dismay we went to a lot down the street from home. But aside from that abhorrent occasion, I have the fondest memories wandering the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s each year looking for that one special tree.
With my own little family now I haven’t upheld this tradition as much as I want to. In fact, we’ve maybe cut down our tree twice in the 9 years my husband and I have been married, but the memories remain some of my fondest from my youth. There is something about the holidays that brings out our internal desire to continue and create traditions. What is it about tradition that we love so much, or that carries so much weight?
Tradition is our link to the past – it is the fiber of our heritage – passed down through generations. They are created in the moments when we realize, “I’ve been here before, I remember this” and in such a way to help guide us towards what to do next. We move forward with purpose by remembering the past. We want to recreate the magical, memorable experiences that we’ve had in order to re-live them, and the familiarity of a repeated moment brings comfort and security. Though the experience may have been mundane, the repetition or recreation of it becomes special in and of itself. Traditions create memories that can be passed on to our children. They create a bond between us – parent to child, friend to friend, sibling to sibling, grandparent to grandchild. It's through traditions we keep these memories alive, and in that way we can better appreciate those special moments.
My children love baking chocolate chip cookies with Nana when she comes to visit, and they always expect her “sushi crepes” (German pancakes rolled and cut like sushi) every morning when she’s staying with us. When my dad is in town, Pop Pop is always expected to make his famous French toast for breakfast. In their little minds this is just the way of things, but unbeknownst to them they have manifested traditions with their eager tummies. I can’t tell you when it all began, only that now these activities have become special and anxiously awaited traditions. What was a simple morning breakfast, or a request for an after dinner treat, became a unique experience as it happened over and over.
During the holidays it seems this desire is put into over-drive. These days there is this superficial need to keep busy, keep going and doing, to find the most fun activity and create newer, bigger traditions than those from the previous year. Society seems to be driving us to find the best entertainment, or keep our kids happy at whatever expense in order to guarantee a happy childhood. But from my experience, there is more to happiness than the extravagant ventures or keeping busy with activities. Happiness is found in the simple, livable moments we enjoy with each other. We find deeper connection and contentment in these moments of pure simplicity. It’s enjoying breakfast with your loved ones, or being able to sit in companionable silence with your significant other, it’s quality time playing with your children in the comfort of your own home and not an excursion to some big, loud, and entertaining place. That’s why if you look back, your fondest traditions may just be in the small and simple moments that seemed to occur organically year after year.
Which is why I’ve decided to put an end to unnecessary excessiveness in my life this holiday season. I will be honest, I started as I do every time the holidays roll around – with an overzealous exuberance to do and see and plan and volunteer and donate and just do more, more, more in the spirit of the season. Now I am a burnt out mama of three (plus one more on the way) who doesn’t have much left to give to those who matter the most. I know I’m not alone in the spread-yourself-too-thin category, so my challenge to myself and to those who can relate is to stop. Put it all down: the obligations, the work, and the activities. Take a moment to remember your favorite tradition, holiday or not. Relive that moment in your mind, and as you do so, hit the reset button on all your current responsibilities. Remember what it felt like, remember each year you enjoyed that tradition, and let that light guide you forward. Whatever pure and simple joy you received from that moment, let that be your driving force. Make an effort to not make so much effort, and just let the small things come to pass. Pay attention, for they may be more commonplace than you think, but they could mean the world to your children and your loved ones around you. I urge you to make time for the simple things this holiday season. Create traditions rooted in simplicity and in the everyday events, as those are the ones that will last. By doing this you will make each day more meaningful and live with more purpose than the last.
JOURNALIST: Ashley Oborn