Traditions are the glue that binds families together

Christmas morning(Originally published in the Daily Herald, Dec 21, 2014)

There are just a few days left before Christmas 2014 has come and gone. I’ll be honest: I’m not ready yet – but I will be by 6 a.m. on December 25th!

I don’t know if you’re like me, but it’s one rapid slide from Labor Day to Christmas Day that sometimes (often? always?) leaves me practically panting from all the things that end up on my plate. Leaves in the canyon? Check. Canning the last of the summer peaches, tomatoes and salsa? Check. Football games? Check. Fall dances for the high schoolers? Check. Halloween costumes? Check. Thanksgiving dinner for 25? Check. This year add college for mom (and 5 kids) plus full-time job to the mix.

The busyness is reflected in some of the language of Christmas: Hustle and bustle. Shoppers rushing home. Deck the halls. Here we come a’caroling. Dashing through the snow. It’s in the never-ending stream of good things we can do: decorate, build gingerbread houses, make and deliver treats, see the lights, carol, food, school programs, sports (basketball season, y’all!), teacher gifts, Secret Santa, service projects, food bank, neighborhood parties, Advent calendar, Christmas stories, Christmas cards, Christmas food, sewing Christmas jammies…

I could be the poster child for Women Who Do Too Much.

I love it, though, and I choose it deliberately. As a multi-ethnic, non-traditional family, built mostly by adoption, we have long been intentional about creating traditions and memories.

Traditions bind families together. They create communal experiences and shared memories. They create a sense of belonging, when the newest member of the family is pulled into the fold and made part of “inner circle” of family stories.

Traditions have meaning to the ones who participate in it, they are repeated regularly and often, they focus on personal and family milestones. And they almost always involve food.

In our family, like most families, we have created a long list of family traditions. For us, they range from daily rituals like dinner together as a family to the once-a-year Lord of the Rings movie marathon weekend to the way we celebrate birthdays to a plethora of traditions covering the month of December.

Traditions are really important — but they aren’t iron-clad and they shouldn’t become a drag. We have abandoned or changed some traditions over time. As a busy mom, I didn’t want to spend all of Christmas Day cooking, so instead of the big meal I grew up with, we put a turkey in the roaster in the morning and limit the side dishes to just a couple. Easy. We also added in a snack day — no cooking, snacks and paper plates only. We all love that day.

There is also time to be still.

We can do a lot of things and still find time to be present. To love. To give of ourselves. To listen. To slow down. Capture moments. Share hearts.

We can do none of those things on the above list and still create tender memories.

Not every Christmas season has been as busy as this year’s. Nine years ago, our 17-year old daughter died on December 9 and was buried on a bitterly cold December 17. Our month was wrapped in tenderness and sadness, family togetherness and a focus on the spiritual. Elizabeth was born with significant disabilities and at birth, her life expectancy was said to be a year, then four, then ten, but certainly not more than twelve or thirteen. We were blessed to have her for seventeen. While her passing was not a surprise, it changed our focus that year. Jammies were purchased, not sewn. Friends and neighbors helped with food and gifts while we cocooned and grieved and remembered.

A few years later, a son of ours did an Eagle Scout project of helping to provide Christmas for 75 residents of the Utah Developmental Center. Part of his project was to provide carolers and maybe even a Santa’s helper for Christmas morning at the center. As we went and served others, another family tradition was born. We have been every year since. We will go again this year and come home with hearts full and spirits renewed.

Susan Lieberman, a licensed psychologist, has said: “Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, warm and safe in a confusing world.

This Christmas season, be intentional about your traditions. I invite you to add in a new tradition of service, one that you can continue through all of 2015. Thomas S. Monson said it well when he said “He who gives money, gives much; he who gives time give more but he who gives of himself gives all.”

Sit with a grieving friend. Take donations to the Food Bank. In July. Donate toys in good condition to DI or Goodwill. Buy a new toy and donate to Toys for Tots. Choose a neighborhood family and share an evening getting to know each other. Invite a college student (or more than one) who can’t travel home for Christmas to share with your family.

Take treats — or a complete meal — to the doctors and nurses working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Share the love with police and fire. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Write letters to our service men and women. Check out Operation Gratitude for a place to send those letters. Visit a retirement community with handmade cards and ornaments.

Make and deliver children’s activities kits to kids who are stuck in the hospital over the holidays. There are Primary Children’s and Shriners, but also pediatric units in local hospitals.

Finally, take time to be still. One of my favorite Christmas songs, an Austrian carol/lullaby, “Still, Still, Still” contains these words:

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star it’s vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
Traditions. Family. Service. Love. Stillness.
All show honor to that wee baby in a manager.

Merry Christmas!