The Incredible Power of Tradition

ornamentWhen Susan and I got married (November of 1991), we knew Christmas was just around the corner. There wasn’t a lot of time to set up a joint household and figure out how we were going to decorate our new place for the holidays. It was stressful enough thinking about how we were going to navigate all of the family, work, and other gatherings; let alone establish some kind of celebration of our own. We knew that our own traditions would evolve over time, particularly once we added children to the mix. But there was one tradition we decided to start right from the beginning, and I’m so glad that we did.

We bought a small, table-top tree and an ornament commemorating our first Christmas as a married couple. The ornament is from the Hallmark Miniature series and features a Victorian-era couple in a sleigh. It has the words “First Christmas” and the year printed on it. The idea was that each year, we’d find a new ornament to celebrate our new family and place only those items on this particular tree.

As you can imagine, the tree looked pretty bare at first. That single ornament looked rather sad floating in the sea of pine needles. But a short year later it was joined by a second one. Then came a third and a fourth and so on. The tree began to fill out with ornaments and memories. Now, twenty-seven years and twenty-eight Christmases later, we’ve got a nice little collection assembled. It’s gotten harder to find the miniature ornaments, and we’ve had to hand-write the dates on a few; but even those elements add something to our shared story.

Traditions are important, as they serve as markers for us to orient ourselves to. Each time we engage in meaningful traditions, we reinforce values that define who we are and what we stand for. As Susan and I look at our marriage tree, and either put the ornaments on or remove them for storage, our commitment to each other is strengthened in a variety of ways.

Obviously, there’s the connection to the past. Each ornament signifies a chapter in our life as a couple. We can pick up an ornament and recall significant events that happened during the 12-month period it represents. Recalling the good times (and yes, the bad ones as well) helps to cement our history and what our family stands for.

There’s the anticipation of searching for and selecting each new season’s ornament. Participation in the tradition brings us together in a time when our schedules pull us apart more often than not. As we look for the next addition to the tree, we engage with each other and rediscover what it is that we have in common.

And there’s also the joy of sharing the tradition with others. Back in 1991, I envisioned a future where our children would open each ornament; counting the years to ensure all were accounted for and identifying the year when they first entered the story. That came to pass. Just this weekend, my daughter Abby sat down and decorated the tree, strategically placing each ornament for maximum effect.

I’m sure you have traditions of your own. Some may be heartfelt while others are corny and cause eyes to roll. But know that each of them are meaningful. Each of them are important.

Don’t let this season disappear in a blur. Rather, grab hold of your traditions, and create new ones, so that you and those you care about have a reason to come together. Make a point to celebrate, anticipate, and engage this Christmas.