With the holidays behind us, the season of traditions is over. Or is it?
Growing up, I loved the things that my family would do every year, which included holiday traditions like watching A Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, but also less holiday-centric traditions like putting out the special blue-and-white china plates for special occasions and visiting a local nature preserve for a picnic lunch in early August right before school started.
Traditions underscored the special moments of life, anchoring them within the unpredictability that is ordinary life.
As I’ve gotten older, moved away from home, and begun a life on my own, tradition has become a touchstone for knowing myself and what matters to me. And though I’m still engaged with my family’s traditions, I’ve also found myself creating new traditions with the people around me. I’ve also come to see that traditions don’t need to be focused to a particular time of year. Any moment that is special or set apart can include a tradition—a ritual that signifies the extraordinary elements of the moment.
I’ve also come to realize that traditions are just as important outside family life as well. Though many of us are still connected to our families, today, many Americans live far away from family. This cultural norm has led to a whole lot of people trying to piece together a community from their different social circles. Pair that with the fact that young people are starting families later, and what we’re left with as a society is a substantial portion of our population looking for new ways to celebrate meaningful moments.
Take for example, the more recent phenomenon of Friendsgiving. As this 2018 Atlantic article observes, cultural trends (like a later marriage age) can transform traditional holidays: “[A] reason Thanksgiving celebrations have changed may be that families themselves have changed—and nonrelatives have become more likely to take on family-like roles in people’s lives….[and] especially for those who remain unmarried and/or childless well into their adult years, the most important people in their lives might be friends.”
It could be, of course, that your friends aren’t more important than your family—you just want to have a way to signify special moments with them, too. So be it. I’ve found creating traditions to be a way to deepen friendships and to spend intentional time with others even with the pressure of work and other commitments.
The point is, in the twenty-first century, the word tradition now has a more fluid definition than, well, the more traditional connotations of tradition—stiffness and out-of-date ways of relating to the world—might include. Tradition is something living and growing, and hopefully something that brings life and wonder to what would otherwise be ordinary.
With that in mind, who’s to say the season of traditions is behind us? While we might be sad our favorite holiday traditions are behind us until next year, we can come up with new traditions that anchor us in meaningful moments all through the year. Below are a few things I’ve found helpful in creating meaningful traditions of my own.
01. Hone in on special moments and how you want to mark them.
The question of what moments are special to me and how I want to celebrate these moments has guided my desire to create meaningful traditions, not only at the holidays, but on seemingly ordinary days. I’ve taken a nod from my own faith tradition here: in the Catholic Church, many days besides Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas are celebrated. Most days of the year are dedicated to saints who have been exemplary examples of love, kindness, and others-centeredness. What I’ve found from this faith tradition is that there really is much to celebrate. A seemingly mundane day, like October 1, becomes tinged with special meaning because my favorite saint is remembered on this day. The lovely thing is that you don’t have to be Catholic, or even religious in any way, to create days that celebrate particular people or moments.
Traditions often hinge upon an important date or activity. For example, I reconnected with a wonderful roommate on the Sunday after Easter a couple years ago, and this meeting began a friendship that I cherish to this day. To celebrate this unexpected yet providential meeting, we have cultivated a tradition of getting crepes together on the Sunday after Easter. Why crepes? Well, we both like crepes, and I think they particularly blend the lovely things about us: my penchant for creativity and my friend’s innovative culinary skills. So, both the day and the activity are meaningful to us.
In determining your own traditions, how do you want to celebrate a special moment or person? In terms of what this special moment is, don’t be afraid to go really simple. Your traditions don’t have to center around friendship anniversaries; they can also be something you do every now and again, like a visit to a blueberry patch, museum, or arboretum at a certain time of the year, an annual run/walk you participate in, or a concert or play that you enjoy seeing again and again. Some of these traditions can even be solo endeavors.
02. Allow traditions to reflect who you are.
Probably the most beautiful thing about fashioning your own traditions is that they can reflect the person you are and the things you’re passionate about. For my last birthday, I hosted a literary party based around a poem I really liked. I offered my guests tea, and we played games like Bring Your Own Book. Even my non-English-major guests were able to see value in this gathering—it was an opportunity to share something about myself, and they appreciated it.
Traditions can also be ways to allow others to share more about who they are. I love the idea of taking turns among friends in hosting gatherings, with each person fashioning her get-together around something she really loves. This allows us to experience our friends in ways we might not have gotten to yet. It is also an invitation for us to learn from our friends, and perhaps even adopt some of their habits and interests.
03. Do not be afraid to let traditions go.
Though allowing traditions to fade may sound like the very opposite of the spirit of tradition, I’ve found that this attitude is the healthiest for me. As a child, I used to get very upset when my family didn’t do what we did the previous year. In my particular temperament, there’s a temptation for traditions to become imperatives: “We have to do this,” instead of, “We want to do this.” By holding on to traditions lightly, I allow them breathing room—to grow, change, or fade.
I’ve found this approach to tradition to be helpful because there are times when life legitimately gets in the way of a tradition happening on the day or even in the season I hoped it would. Case in point: the crepes I mentioned earlier. Two years back, my friend and I ended up getting crepes not in spring on the Sunday after Easter, but sometime in the middle of the summer. And that was fine. What I found is that we did many other things to celebrate our friendship, like grabbing tea weekly and talking about life.
I’ve also come to celebrate what I’d like to call one-time traditions—celebrations that I hoped would be repeated but were not. One example is Piñata Fest, where a couple of college friends and I assembled piñatas, filled them with candy, and cracked them open. At the time, we said we’d come together every summer to repeat this event, but we didn’t. What remains with me is not that we never did it again, but that we did it once.
Traditions in the modern world may look a little different in our ever-changing cultural landscape. Though traditions are often considered in the context of family, it makes sense that we’re making space to cultivate new traditions with friends, co-workers, and neighbors. The power of traditions to bring people together is the important part of this process. Especially in a non-stop culture that struggles with work-life balance, traditions offer unique ways to slow down and appreciate the beauty of life and the people in it.