Posts tagged traditions
Simplify Your Season

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

A Mindful Winter Season

This year, the holidays have descended early and are in full glitzy swing. Part of me sighs, “Can we please just make it through Thanksgiving?” while the other part of me is celebrating. There's no denying that I love this season. I love the memories I have associated with it and the excitement I have to share it with my baby. For her, I want it to be as magical as I can possibly make it for no other time is more full of magic and mystery and sweetness. But, I'm wary of falling into the trap of buying the experience, of getting swept up in the early pressure to purchase what is easily accessible. I want our holidays to be authentic, full of meaning, warm and memorable which takes extra effort, extra thought, and extra purpose. This year, I've set about to incorporate a mindful approach to the traditions we know and love and to create new traditions unique to our little family.

This year, the holidays couldn’t come at a more opportune moment in history. With the recent divisive turmoil and fear and hatred that is swirling relentlessly throughout the country, it is even more important to enjoy a mindful and thoughtful celebration; it is the perfect time to stop and recall what this season is supposed to mean beyond religion, beyond race, beyond politics, beyond hate, and beyond selfishness. We, as parents, have the great responsibility to shape our families, to shield and protect them in a frightening world, but we also have the unbelievable opportunity to create small, inextinguishable flames of warmth and light in a dreary, tired, dark world. And this season is nothing if it isn’t about light in the dark.

This year, since it is the first my little family of three will be spending in our own home, I want to focus on creating traditions that tell a positive narrative beyond the excitement and thrill of decorations and presents. I want these traditions to celebrate our religious beliefs throughout Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, but I also want them to celebrate a sense of mindfulness and intention rooted in reality. I want our holidays to be timeless and full of texture. So, to escape the suggestions surrounding me, I started thinking about what the winter season of celebration, from Thanksgiving to New Year, meant to families generations ago. What did it look like before the panic of presents and perfect trees and visits to Santa Claus at the mall? I think it looked a lot like family and friends gathering, lighting candles and fires, telling stories, sharing laughs, tears, and meals. I think there was a lot less glitter and shine and tinsel and more tattered woolen wear and treasured heirlooms. Our current familiar holiday standards were once rooted in deep tradition, and, for some, they still hold significant meaning. But as a whole, the depth of meaning has been lost. We are surrounded by imagery and traditions that have become common commodities. But they are still here, waiting to be rediscovered and assigned meaning once again. It’s beautiful. In fact, stepping back and out and away from the modern fray of the holidays, reveals a glittering, sparkling impression of tiny lights in the dark.

This year, and years before, we recognize a holiday season that is created to celebrate light from every imaginable source. Families drape their homes in strings of lights, creating dreamy streets and glowing lighthouses filling the darkness. So ingrained has this tradition become, that we don’t realize we’re participating in a much bigger human celebration. Symbols of light are prominent in every major seasonal religious holiday. The advent candles and the star of Bethlehem for Christmas, the menorah for Hanukkah, the diya for Diwali, the moon for Ramadan, the Mishumaa Saba for Kwanzaa, and lanterns and the moon for Chinese New Year. I’m sure there are more. The darkness of winter, the starkness of the cold and snow and blurry weather is transformed through our celebration of light, warmth and life. In ancient flickering, natural candlelight, our human connection is revealed; the artificial, blinking spotlight of contemporary culture tends to distort it. Light, in all of these celebrations, serves as a symbol of our need for the positive reminder of hope and love and community in the darkness of the world. As long as we light the flame and pass it along, there is always hope, there is always love, there is always warmth.

This year, I want my family’s seasonal traditions to be warmed by the golden glow of that ancient light. I want my daughter’s winter to be more than just the anticipation of opening the biggest gift under the tree. I want her to know the meaning of all the symbols, the love and hope and life they represent for people all over the world. I dream of creating an environment where we take time to appreciate the season and how it makes us feel. Family, charity, creativity, thanksgiving, and community are my focus this year. We’ve already planned simple family events like storytelling nights, moon gazing picnics, Christmas music dance parties, a scavenger hunt through the canyon, and a no boundaries hide-and-go-seek extravaganza. We are working on how to incorporate our extended family members who live thousands of miles away from us. We are crafting decorations from clay and paint, little gifts with found nature items and lots of glitter, treats like decorated sugar cookies, caramels, and deep, dark gingerbread to share with neighbors and friends. All of our creations will show we are capable and worthy of display. We are looking for ways to give of ourselves, by donating food and gifts and spending time with the elderly in a local retirement home. By sharing of ourselves, a near-two-year old might understand what empathy means and let her light shine. We are making lists of the things for which we are deeply thankful and we intend to share them with each other and others we know. We will expand our new community through purposeful, intentional actions and respect. Children are naturally full of the most pure and precious timeless glow.  We need to kindle it, praise it, share it, and mirror it into our own lives. How blessed are we, as parents, as humans walking this earth, to have the opportunity to live alongside these fleeting, golden miraculous creatures? In the darkness, we should always seek their guidance.

This year, regardless of your religious, political, sexual, or social affiliation, I invite you to join my family in our quest to light bright a honey sweet flame of the season. Take to to meditate on your family, determine a purpose for this season. Find a way to share your glorious light, to open your home to new sources of glowing love, and to experience the old flame of kinship and community. Don't miss the opportunity to kindle a fire for your family and don't forget to seek out a flickering glow where the darkest seems the deepest.

JOURNALIST: Shannon Sullivan Brown