Nostalgia can be one hell of a drug, and leaning on old habits and traditions to cultivate nostalgia can be especially tempting during the holidays. No matter what you celebrate (if you celebrate anything), it’s hard to avoid the traditions that shape the winter season – a season that comes with way too much stress. So why do we participate when high expectations can crush the relaxation and joy we could be feeling instead?
During the wintertime, everything from lighting candles to baking cookies brings warmth to both one’s body and heart. There are so many tiny little things that make the season spectacular. Yet we tend to pay attention to only the big moments, or the tragic memories, and wipe out the small serendipities. Without access to a time machine, there is no way that we can recall all of the tiny actions and moments that accumulate into vivid memories and feelings with hindsight. So we put pressure on the “big” moments, and this pressure suffocates them.
Sometimes breaking the mold can lead to a more joyful and stress-free time of year. As much as I want to feel like a five-year-old running down to open presents, I know it’s not going to happen. Trying to recreate the joy from our youth never lives up to expectations. Letting go of the things we “think” we need to do can create more reasonable expectations. It’s also unwise to use the holiday season to try and fix your less than fond memories from your youth. The past cannot be smothered by new recreations of the same season. All that will do is bring excessive amounts of stress, making yourself and everyone else miserable.
This will be the first Christmas I celebrate as a 30-something married person. My partner and I both come from families that have a plethora of traditions and celebrations that shaped our holiday seasons as children. We still participate in many of these, but we have also created ones that involve just the two of us.
Traditions can be very emotional and complicated. It might be difficult to abandon certain practices due to familial obligations and/or feelings of guilt. It’s important to remember the past but we should not be bound by it. New activities at different places with different people can seem like abandoning ‘how things are done.’
But focusing solely on the past prevents any chance of creating new (and possibly better) traditions with friends and family.
When a tradition feels like an obligation or a chore, there should be some reevaluation of why you’re continuing it year after year. Just because it happens every year doesn’t necessarily mean it should continue. When there is no obligation or expectation, this time of year can become joyous and fun again for adults.
If a tradition is binding us, it may be time to let go.
Artwork by Eugenia Loli