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Faith and Values: Sometimes holiday traditions need to change, but you can always make new ones

FāVS News editor Tracy Simmons.  (Nataly Davies)

I can’t help but think about tradition this time of year, which makes me think of impermanence.

Tradition is often thought of as something timeless and unchanging, passed down from a previous generation.

It reminds me of the lyric from “Fiddler on the Roof”:

“You may ask, how did this tradition start? … I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.”

Interestingly, watching “Fiddler on the Roof” was one of our holiday customs when I was a kid, even though we weren’t Jewish.

It’s one of many rituals that has faded away.

That’s the beauty of traditions. They can change and adapt, or sometimes cease. They don’t have to be inflexible, like for so long I perceived them to be.

I write this with my Christmas experience in mind.

Growing up, Christmas Eve was the best. It’s when my entire family got together – my grandma and all my aunts and uncles and cousins. We’d eat a classic Christmas meal (rolls and ham and stuffing) with a New Mexican twist (green chile, enchiladas, pozole). Then we’d open presents.

I loved it not because of the food or gifts, but because I enjoyed being around my family. I liked that Christmas Eve gave us a reason to be together. We celebrated together for Thanksgiving and Easter, and sometimes the Fourth of July, too.

Another Christmas tradition my mom and I had was a cookie-decorating party with my godmother and her two kids.

The five of us were close and for a time all lived together.

Our moms would bake dozens of sugar cookies cut into all different shapes, then they’d set homemade bowls of white, blue, green and red frosting with all the toppings you could imagine – sprinkles, jimmies, confetti, silver sugar pearls.

My cookies were always the messiest but tasted the best because they had the most frosting.

I thought these traditions would last forever.

But one day my mom’s oldest sister moved away, and the family, eventually, stopped celebrating the holidays together.

The cookie-decorating parties ended, too. Tension built up between my mom and my godmom over religion, and eventually their friendship fizzled.

That same discord over religion further split the rest of my family apart, too.

Of all the loving aunts and uncles and cousins and friends I had growing up, I occasionally only text with one or two of them now.

So in time, I created my own holiday tradition.

For years now, I’ve gone hiking or snowshoeing with my dog most holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s, etc.

I find comfort in the solitude of the woods, especially on these days. Nature has never made me feel lonely, like being a guest in someone else’s home can sometimes do.

But that doesn’t mean I should hide in the woods forever, or always avoid family holiday celebrations.

As a child growing up in a single-parent home, I needed the tradition of spending time with my whole family a few times a year. It provided me with a sense of security and normalcy.

I needed the cookie party back then, too. It was a time for my mom and I to play and have fun together and forget about the hardship we were living in.

Those customs got us through, just like the forest has gotten me through years of healing and soul-searching.

Now, in 2022, I find my traditions changing once again. Only this time, not because people have fallen out of my life, but because they’ve fallen into it.

For the second time this year, I’m traveling to the Midwest with my partner to be with her and her family for a holiday.

I’m excited to be learning their traditions and am humbled to be invited into them.

My spirit requires a new tradition, and I give thanks that I get to create one with someone I love.

Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a Washington State University scholarly assistant professor and the editor of SpokaneFāVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.

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