|Catherine E. Sears, Esq.
Nearly every family has some sort of holiday tradition. After all, traditions are often part of what makes this time of the year so special; they are time-honored routines that are fun in and of themselves, but also evoke special memories of fun holidays in earlier years. Whether the tradition is broad in nature (seeing family members sometime during the holiday season) or specific (watching It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve while you finish wrapping last-minute presents), they are nearly always a part of the holiday experience.
However, it’s okay to break traditions, or for the tradition to evolve, especially when aging family members are involved. There is no shame in downsizing from an eight-foot, live Douglas fir to a more manageable four-foot, pre-lit artificial tree. Older individuals shouldn’t feel pressure in the name of tradition to climb up on ladders and line the roof with twinkling lights; a simple wreath on the front door evokes the holiday spirit too, and is a much safer way to show your holiday mood to the world. The matriarch of the family need not always host an elaborate Christmas dinner with homemade food on fine china. She should feel free to go to a younger family member’s home instead, or continue hosting herself, but have the meal catered and served on paper plates.
I don’t mean to be a Scrooge, but, like it or not, we are all another year older at each annual holiday celebration. Traditions that once made sense may simply no longer be practical to implement, especially if an aging relative has physical limitations that did not exist when the tradition began. Furthermore, family situations change. A child might get married and begin spending alternating holidays with his new in-laws. A relative might downsize or move out of state, making it difficult to host the holiday dinner. A loved one might pass away at the holidays, leaving grieving family members in a less-than-festive mood. Additionally, financial situations change, so what was once a huge stack of presents might turn into a smaller, thoughtful token of love.
It can be difficult to convince someone that he should take on a different, less strenuous role for the holidays. Certainly, the elderly should be respected and allowed to play a useful role during this busy time of the year if they are able to do so. However, family members sometimes – even unintentionally – put pressure on aging relatives to continue celebrating the holidays according to the same traditions that were established years and years ago. Older people may feel that they are “ruining” their family’s holiday celebration by neglecting an old tradition, so they continue to try to keep the tradition alive against their own better judgment by climbing up that ladder, hoisting that turkey pan into the oven, or lugging dozens of ornaments up the basement stairs.
It may be too late this year to consider making a change in traditions, but keep this in mind for next year as you continue your celebrations. Be on the lookout for signs from aging relatives that perhaps they are no longer up to the challenges that holiday traditions bring. The holidays should be a time for spreading cheer and putting others above self. Although it might be sad to bring a beloved tradition to an end, you might be giving your family the gift of peace of mind by being flexible and letting a new tradition begin.