What do you anticipate at this time of year? Amid the hustle and bustle of preparing for the holidays, what are the experiences that will make you pause and savor the moments? It’s easy to become so preoccupied with our to-do lists that we overlook or brush past those precious times of connection, laughter, and joy. Don’t miss it!
Perhaps you are like me and find yourself anticipating the look on someone’s face when you give them a gift that you’ve thoughtfully selected for them. For me, it will be giving the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ to my six-year-old granddaughter.
Shopping isn’t one of my favorite things to do, but when it comes to shopping for the children in my life, I must admit that I have trouble restraining myself. It happened recently when I was in a store and saw this whimsical elf on display. It caught my eye and brought a smile to my face, and I knew in an instant that it would have the same effect on my granddaughter. As I write this, I can picture her eager face as she enjoys the challenge of this game, which is to find the hidden elf in her home each day leading up to Christmas.
Looking forward to spending time together fills my heart with anticipation even more than gift giving does. This year, in addition to the Elf on the Shelf, I plan to make a gingerbread house with my granddaughter. I can picture her enthusiastic bright eyes as we put the puzzle pieces of the house together, sticky fingers being licked, gumdrops being carefully placed, and the feeling of her slender arms wrapped around my neck in a hug hold, as we survey the masterpiece we have created together. It doesn’t really matter how the gingerbread house looks. The joy is in those moments of fun, creativity, and connection as a new memory is being made. Who knows…perhaps it will even become a tradition.
The way in which holiday traditions form is an interesting phenomenon. There is comfort found in the routines which link one holiday to another; year in and year out. As a child, I remember always wanting to hang a certain mistletoe ornament in the same place every year when we decorated our home. There was something very satisfying about recreating the atmosphere in which our family celebrated together.
As an adult, however, I was caught off guard when my children declared traditions had been started simply because we did something two years in a row. I realized that I needed to be mindful of what activities I repeated, since I never knew which ones they would take to heart and want to repeat annually. My sons had a strong desire to create our family’s unique traditions, many of which continue now that they are young adults. They can easily tell you the kind of tree we get, the cookies we bake, the way we open gifts, and what we eat on Christmas morning. It’s not so much what we do but that we do it together that matters. Our hearts are warmed both when we anticipate and perform our family’s rituals.
There is a flip side, however, to the happiness that traditions can invoke. During difficult years of upheaval and change, traditions may need to be altered. In my lifetime, separation and divorce dictated that we couldn’t continue certain ways of doing things. This occurred when my sons were young teenagers, and I remember how important it was to ask them what traditions they wanted to keep as our family went through this change. It was interesting to learn which ones no longer mattered to them. Having a say in the changes helped my children tremendously in adapting to new situations. My older son, Patrick, could care less about outdoor decorations, but my younger son, Ben, really enjoyed them. So a new tradition was formed that Ben and I became the two family members that decorated the outside of our home each year. Patrick loved a freshly cut tree, but instead of going to the farm and cutting it down ourselves, we adjusted to buying one from the Boy Scouts. Adaptations to our traditions were made, and we even formed new ones as our family evolved as a trio.
Knowing how and when to change traditions is as important as being aware of how and when they form. A dear friend of mine lost her mother to cancer this year. This will be her first Christmas without her mom, who was also her best friend. I admire how she has thoughtfully decided where she wants to be on this holiday, and with whom she wants to spend it. She knows that she will miss her mom no matter where she is, but she feels that being somewhere that her mom loved, and with the people her mom loved, will help her to connect with the spirit of the woman she longs for. Adapting her family traditions this year was what she needed to do to manage her sense of loss and grief. Changing traditions can cause distress within families, however, particularly when everyone may not agree about those changes. Ultimately, we must each decide for ourselves what we need to create the comfort and connection that our hearts desire. No one knows better than you what will satisfy you to your core. Even if others don’t agree with your choices, I encourage you to persevere and choose the experiences and moments that will fill and overflow your heart with love.
Because a heart full of love is ultimately what this season of the year is all about. Love came down at Christmas and continues to come to us in many forms. My wish for you is that you will feel the light of love in your life as you capture the special moments this season has to offer.
Carol deLaski is a leadership coach, author, and speaker. You may contact her at [email protected].