Friday, December 23, 2011

New Traditions

It was recently pointed out to me that the expression “starting a new tradition” is a sort of oxymoron.

I went to the source (still Webster’s for me) for the definition of tradition: “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.” No surprise there. But if the fact that it’s something long established means there’s no such thing as starting a new tradition, then I’m forced to redefine this entire holiday season.

It began with Thanksgiving, when my mom’s health was so compromised that, for the first time in family history, she was unable to cook dinner. My brother and sister-in-law, along with Jim, Jake and I—under Mom’s surprisingly dictatorial direction—put the meal on the table and handled the cleaned-up. The consensus was that it was one of the best Thanksgiving’s ever and we should do it again next year. Voila! A new tradition was born.

When Mom landed in the hospital the following week, my sister Deborah and I conspired to hold a Christmas cookie bake-off to prevent her from trying to do it all herself. New Tradition Number 2 turned out to be so much fun that, as we toasted our success with the best Bloody Mary’s on the planet at the nearby Howard House in Elkton, MD, we vowed to—you guessed it—do it again next year.

Jim invented New Tradition Number 3 during a conversation about the need to simplify Christmas dinner because of my parents’ continued poor health. Roast beef and twice-baked potatoes is their go-to menu, but I braved my father’s wrath by putting forth Jim’s alternate suggestion: spaghetti and meatballs. To everyone’s surprise, Dad thought it was a splendid idea and we’re all bringing sides and apps to round things out.

I freely admit to taking comfort in tradition. In the way that my favorite down quilt keeps me warm, traditions keep me fulfilled. But I’d be lying if I said these changes haven’t been refreshing. The dust has been blown off of old (and admittedly stale) patterns of behavior. And I’m really enjoying the process of creating new experiences and deeper connections.

And yet…I was thrilled when Jake and his sister Carly made the time this week to keep one holiday ritual alive. As we decorated the Christmas tree and munched on pizza, I was filled with pure and simple joy. New or old, tradition gives us something to look forward to. And hope is what this season is all about.

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