Family Traditions

by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from, December 17, 2001, Revised

Traditions are important, especially during the holidays. This year, they seem even more important. Traditions are kind of like family habits that we choose to hold on to. Traditions make our family different from every other family. I find it interesting how traditions form and how they change. For my family, they are fluid, almost alive. Each year we choose to reinforce one tradition, maybe drop another one temporarily, or add a new tradition. That’s because we cherish our traditions, but not so much that we let them interfere with the enjoyment sharing the holidays.

Especially dear are the traditions surrounding our Christmas tree. My mother bought my son a Christmas ornament on his first Christmas and every year of her life. She died when my son was three and my husband and I took up that tradition. Everyone in the family receives an ornament each year, usually after Christmas when they were on sale. Our tree tells a story. When our daughter got married, she took her ornaments with her to adorn her family tree. Now we give our grandchildren a Christmas ornament or decoration each year.

I remember our family’s first Christmas tree. As Christmas 1978 neared, I looked forward to shopping for a Christmas tree with my new husband, or perhaps cutting our own. Then he delivered his speech defending the millions of pine and fir trees, a speech I have heard many times since.

“What do you mean, ‘You don’t believe in cutting down Christmas trees?’ What am I supposed to do with the Christmas ornaments we bought?” I asked Jim.

The year before we had bought a set of five Christmas ornaments on sale after the holidays. I had looked forward to hanging them on our first Christmas tree, but now it looked as if we wouldn’t have one.

I looked out the window, beyond the yard, to the field behind our house. No trees there. We lived in a high desert in Idaho surrounded by sagebrush. “Well it might not be green, but it will hold the ornaments.” I said to the empty room.

After Jim got home from work that evening, he saw the ornaments hanging from my “tree.” Well, it wasn’t really a tree. It was a tall sprig of sagebrush stuck in a coffee can filled with dirt.

“That’ll do, and no one will ever miss that sage brush,” Jim said.

I thought this would be our only Christmas tree until I found a tree at the local Salvation Army store. A new artificial tree was out of the question, but this one was only five dollars.

“That’s the ugliest tree I’ve ever seen!” Jim said when I brought it home.

“Wait until you see it decorated, it will be beautiful,” I assured him calmly.

“What’s this?” he asked, as he picked at the wrinkled tinsel hanging from the branches.

“It’s tinsel,” I told him, “whoever owned the tree before put tinsel on it. It doesn’t come off easily. That’s probably why they gave it away. With a little time, I think we can get it all off.”

I went to work on my Christmas tree. After several minutes of picking at the tinsel, I gave up and began to decorate it. I hung my five ornaments on it.

“It looks better,” Jim admitted reluctantly, “but it still has a lot of that silver stuff on it.”

Every year we picked more tinsel off the tree and decorated it with our growing collection of ornaments, lights, and garland. To others, it may not have been as attractive as some trees, but to me it was beautiful. It was a part of our Christmas celebration for twenty years. Every year we considered getting a new tree, but we could never afford it. By the time we could afford a new tree, I wasn’t sure I wanted one. Finally, we bought a new artificial tree and gave the old one away to brighten the holidays of another family. The ornaments are still the same, the new tree is more attractive, but still I miss that old scraggly tree with the wrinkly “silver stuff.”

I guess my Christmas tree is an example of how some of our traditions change over time, but many remain, keeping us connected to the past and to each other. Discuss your family traditions today. Which ones will you choose to keep? Which ones would you like to change? You might be surprised to see which traditions mean the most to individual family members.

Be sure to check out The Habit Change Workbook:
How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones