When Tradition Threatens Your Christmas

Monday, December 15, 2014


Im deeply and emotionally tied to them.  For just about every holiday, there are things you can count on in our home.  Dishes that will be prepared.  Books that will be read.  Aunt Marvels bread recipe will always be used to make a tea-ring to be served on Christmas morning.  Just-so, with maraschino cherries decorating it looking like holly berries.

Our Advent Calendar will have a special activity we do as a family every day in December.

Each kid gets a breakfast date with daddy every birthday.

Jack-o-lantern cookies are decorated every October.

Everything from back-to-school shopping to vacation rituals to holiday habits to bedtime routines.  We make a big fuss out of small stuff around here.  Anticipation is half the fun and I love to play it up.  My kids eagerly wake every Saturday knowing they can count on pancakes for breakfast.   I have a childhood happily seeped in traditions as well.  There was a beautiful security in memories that you know will resurface year-after-year.  Season after season.  Holiday after holiday. In fact, my big brawny daddy used to do a Fiddler on the Roof “Tradition” impersonation of Tevye.  Mother worked hard to make insignificant days special and to celebrate the ordinary.   Aside from the cheesy 1950’s Pat Boon Christmas album that would surface the first of December, we loved the rituals and sights and sounds of the season that we knew we could count on!  And I embraced the notion that tradition meant I was offering my kids a stable, secure, happy childhood.

Which is all well and good until the tie to traditions interferes with harmony in the home.  Im prone to measure my worth as a mom by my ability to create lasting memories out of every. single. event.  And when I fail to pull off a tradition or miss an opportunity, I feel like a failure!  And here’s the thing about traditions….the more of them you have, the more opportunity to break them and feel awful!  Its a bit counter productive when tradition and perfectionism and my sin nature get muddled up and bring out the inner “Scrooge” or “Grinch” in me!

Life is busy.  Demands are many.  Time is short.  Which in some ways has driven me even further into my compulsion to cling to those traditions that give me a sense of accomplishment that at least Im getting something right.  But our life now is not the secure, stable, suburbia family I was raised in.  Our crazy, traveling, gypsies, unconventional, lifestyle as a family of 8 living in big-city Bangkok is going to be characterized by some chaos and creativity will be necessary to create lasting memories.  The memories my children have of their childhood may look very different from year-to-year.  When traditions stress your husband out and when you’re not fully present as a wife and mom because you’re gritting your teeth and white-knuckling it so hard to make things “memorable” (goshdarnit!) , then perhaps…..just maybe….things are out of balance.  When tradition sabotages my stability and threatens my joy, its time to reevaluate.   Ive been guilty so many times of ruining perfectly fun moments because I want to capture a PICTURE of the fun.  What usually results?  An image of unhappy kiddos who have been interrupted…..a mom who is cross that no one is smiling…..and usually a cooking project gone wrong because Ive brought progress to a screeching halt for that perfect picture.

C is often the voice of reason in my head reminding me that its ok to take an occasional short cut if it means keeping my sanity intact.  Im finding its ok to strive for traditions as long as Im not going to come unraveled if it doesn’t work out.  People, not polished perfection is what I want memories to revolve around.

My blogging strike as of late has been in part because Ive had nothing terribly newsworthy to share.  Ive been trying to be more present, more engaged, and more fun and less fuss!  Im breaking tradition:

~This year, the tree was up before Thanksgiving (gasp!) because we had time…..and why not?

~We didnt prepare turkey at home for Thanksgiving, but ordered one, pre-made.  (for one thing, turkeys are few and far between to be found here…..but Im not regretting for a moment the time and mess it saved to just be able to go pick it up piping hot and ready to eat!)

~We’re not making a homemade gingerbread village like we have in past years, we’re cheating and creating graham cracker “gingerbread” houses.  There will be other years for intricate 3 story gingerbread houses with melted lollipop stained glass windows…..but not this year.  I want to enjoy the scads of sprinkles and royal icing-royal mess!

~We have no family Christmas picture and are not sending out a Christmas card this year.  This kills me people, but getting everyone in coordinating clothes and to a location that doesn’t have a city-scape construction site in the background would take a Christmas miracle!

~ Our decorations this year are homespun.  No fancy complicated craft projects or elaborate centerpieces.  Nothing the kids can’t help create.  Nothing Im going to get upset over if they flop.

There’s no shame in taking shortcuts.  Making memories and having fun is still the end result, but you can shave off a lot of stress and time when things are perhaps not quite Pinterest-worthy.   Some of my expectations are being revised to make room for a little more margin in our life.  I want to say “yes” when Gigi wants to read the same Christmas book for the 10th time that day!

Ecclesiastes 7:10 – “Do not say “Why were the old days better than these” for it is not wise to ask such questions.”

Im aiming to live in the moment.  To set aside my expectations and rituals that will interfere with just be-ing together.  I love that my kids embrace traditions, but I also value that they are adaptable and flexible.  Things their mommy is trying to learn to be.

And with that said, here are some very unpolished, mostly phone-snapped-photos of our holiday thus far.



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Finding time for the things that matter….kids Skyping their 94 year old grandparents – priceless!


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  • Lia says:

    Love love love this post Mandy! Thank you for sharing your heart!

  • Annette Lindsey says:

    Pictures couldn’t have been better! I felt like I was there too! I have written down the name of the book and will order it for my little grands next Christmas. Love and hugs from Roswell, GA. I havn’t seen Bonnie’s little ones since last Christmas. They are in TX. but driving all night and day to get here for church next Sunday. They love Andy Stanley and N. Point Church. Hope love is all around you now.

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