10/12/2016 12:56 EDT | Updated 10/12/2016 12:56 EDT

It May Be Time To Push Past Those Old Family Holiday Traditions

Closeup conceptual photo of family warming feet at fireplace
Artfoliophoto via Getty Images
Closeup conceptual photo of family warming feet at fireplace

Another holiday behind us and thoughts are no doubt turning to the festivities yet to be celebrated in the final months of this year.

Now might be a good time to review your family holidays and determine if they are in need of a tune up. We can be steeped in tradition and obligation and feel overwhelmed by the expectations family holidays can bring. There may be that feeling that someone else is driving what we feel is expected of us during a holiday celebration. Could be family, friends or neighbours.

In my own particular life, after my divorce, I admit to being determined to create a December holiday that matched anything we had done before he left us. And match it I did for several years.

There was the requisite nine-foot tree, caroling parties and banquet-style dinners. Then a few years post- divorce, and at my oldest son's urging, we decided to really switch it up. We moved our celebration out West to the mountains where both my son's lived.

I went from the huge tree to a grocery store, table-top, sparkly variety we affectionately call the Psychedelic Tree. Our family traditions changed and grew, and the focus shifted. In those early years of new holiday traditions one particular moment stands out that involved nothing more than just being together.

There are many ways to approach changing holiday traditions.

We walked along the street on Christmas Eve with a soft snow falling. The mountain town street lights caught the flakes and the sky was filled with the glow of tiny diamonds. A young man had a stand set up selling roasted chestnuts. It was a simple but beautiful moment in time that I have not forgotten. That magical evening epitomized the holiday.

If you are feeling the need to switch up your holiday tradition start with taking stock of what works and what doesn't work in your traditional holiday gathering.

I am a proponent of using T charts as a problem solving technique. Draw a large T on a sheet of paper. On one side write all the positives of your holiday celebration. On the other side put the negatives. This works best done spontaneously, quickly listing your thoughts. Whichever side fills up indicates the state of your holiday celebration health.

There are many ways to approach changing holiday traditions. Maybe the meal needs a makeover. Have you always had a large dinner and been the one to deliver the meal? Are you ready for a change? You could do a brunch, or a pot luck, or maybe just a nibbles evening without a large meal.

The holiday decoration market has mushroomed over the past few decades. My decorations used to fill many large shelves in the closet. They were a weight I didn't need to celebrate the holiday. Now my decorations barely fill a large shoe box. Gradually I have given away most of my decorations and kept the ones that were very special. Surprisingly, it's quite enough to give my home a festive touch.

Gift giving can be another onerous holiday expectation. For many of us the question can be: What to give someone who has everything? Dollar limits and drawing names help alleviate the stress of buying gifts for everyone. Donations to charity are another way to approach gifting or volunteering at a community dinner. Plans made in advance to reconfigure gift giving can reduce stress.

Emotions tend to run high as another festive time approaches.

Look around your world. There are probably people spending the holiday alone. Adding a fresh face can add vitality to the family gathering. In today's transient life, there could well be someone you know that, for whatever reasons, will be alone over the holiday. It's giving in the true spirit of the season.

We can trip over our holiday traditions and feel owned by them. Like so many things in life, it is all about taking control. Be decisive. Confer with other family members. Formulate a new holiday plan. There might be resistance but push past that and then, on the other side of the holiday -- evaluate.

Surprise can be unnerving so talking about change well ahead of the next family holiday can alleviate concern. That way family members have a length of time to accept a reinvented holiday.

Emotions tend to run high as another festive time approaches. Give everyone a chance to voice their opinions. If there is division in the ranks, stand your ground for what you want. Maybe in the first push towards new traditions there will be some resistance. A little nudge, a little bargaining, perhaps suggest trying it for a year and see how it goes.

Often you are not alone in wishing that the traditions could be changed. It takes a bit of bravery to reach out and suggest change to family members. However, you might be surprised by their reaction.

Pushing past the old family holiday traditions can be refreshing for everyone.

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