Sydney Avey

Dynamic Woman — Changing Times

Timeworn Traditions

Dec 1, 2015 | Faith, Family, Legacy | 4 comments

hallmark momentsIs this the year to jettison timeworn traditions? In response to a call for a Christmas-themed inspirational article, I pitched a piece about celebrating the season when traditional customs begin to fray under the stress of life changes. No takers, no surprise. They wanted cozy tales of Christmases past and lists of tried and true rituals for readers to adopt.

Our family celebration is tinged with sorrow. Divorce and death have wounded us deeply. I find it helps to view Christmas as a season, not a day. To go for the Norman Rockwell, happy-faced generational gathering around the dining room table twice within the space of 29 days stresses our downsized family. My gift? To design hallmark moments, tiny experiences that sparkle in the light, small moments of joy that infuse our weary spirits with hope.


This year, we weren’t able to gather together around a bounteous Thanksgiving table. The grandchildren went off on an adventure with their father. Here in Arizona, we two dug deeper into the meaning of the holiday. We watched Saints and Strangers on National Geographic and American Experience – The Pilgrims,which left us with a sense of awe and wonder at the tenacity of William Bradford’s vision in face of the odds against him. On Thanksgiving Day we saw The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay – Part 2, a good choice. While the settings are wildly divergent, the themes are eerily similar. After that, we joined other diners at a restaurant that served up turkey, ham and all the fixings.

In the Northwest, our son stepped off an airplane to join his sister for dinner for two in an elegant Seattle restaurant, a hallmark moment that warmed our hearts. The tiny experience was the text exchange of photos that put them at our table and us at theirs. No one felt abandoned and alone, for which we are deeply thankful.


Heart preparation can prevent hurt feelings that pop up, seemingly out of nowhere. Advent calendars and devotional booklets help us focus more on the meaning of Christmas and other seasonal traditions. Mindfulness can protect us from traps like overconsumption and triggers that hijack our emotions. This year I’ve chosen an advent activity to carry me through this minefield. I am focusing on our choir’s preparation for our Christmas pageant, Journey to Bethlehem. I am chairing the committee that is choosing the readings, which gives me plenty of opportunity to contemplate the meaning of Christmas.


Wounded hearts require a mix of healing solitude and the loving intimacy of family or friends. Rather than repeat our traditions, doing our best to triage the gaping holes in our small body, the now six of us–nana and grandpa, brother and sister, granddaughter and grandson–will spend the Christmas holiday surrounded by the beauty of quiet Hawaiian island Kauai. No gift exchange this year, this experience will be our gift to each other. Our agenda is to just be together in a place that needs no decoration to cheer us, although I imagine there will be more than enough tinsel to satisfy the children. We’ll rest, read, snorkel, find a luau to attend and a church service for worship.

This year, I am grateful for the freedom we have in Christ to throw off the yoke of unreasonable expectations we conform to long after they have lost all possibility to make us happy. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

Do you have traditions that need to be packed away, at least for a time? This Christmas, amid the high expectations placed on us by culture and tradition, consider what will truly feed your soul and bring you joy.

However you celebrate, I wish you peace and joy.

Related Posts:

Advent 2014

The Less Than Perfect Christmas


  1. Donna Janke

    Although the publication may have been looking for cozy tales and tried and true rituals, I think there are many who need to hear this message as they go through times where traditions need to be packed away for a bit. My Christmas will be a mix of old traditions and new ways, which I am not sure yet how they will unfold. It is always a good thing (in easy times and in tough times) to consider what really feeds and gives joy. Wishing you and your family many moments of joy and peace this Christmas.

    • yosemitesyd

      Donna, I so agree with you. We add to people’s stress and sorrow when we wear our happy faces until they crack with the strain and expect others to do the same. Of course, changing up a tradition isn’t always because of grief, sometimes its growth. I’d love to hear about your plans. If you write about it, send me the link, or put it here in a comment.

  2. D Laurice

    When it comes to family gatherings, I would agree with your suggestion to view Christmas as a season. In fact, I have come to believe that, with family members scattered geographically, the stresses associated with any kind of travel, the common reality of divorce etc., such traditions are doomed. They have been replaced by Facebook and Skype and the ever-present cell phone. I am just old enough to initially resist such change – any change in fact. However, since I learned to text and got on Facebook, communications with my children and grandson have never been better (they would never return calls). Of course, none of this replaces face-to-face gatherings and the opportunity to touch, hug, embrace and kiss your loved ones. When it comes to gatherings, though, spontaneity may be healthier than tradition. My small family (6 including a daughter-in-law) have not all been together on either Thanksgiving or Christmas for at least 15 years. We usually do get together every Thanksgiving with my son, his wife and now widowed mother-in-law, but they are not obligated to invite us and they know not to count on us to do it. On Christmas Eve and Christmas, both kids have developed their own “traditions” and we are left to ourselves. My wife and I have found our own ways to celebrate the holiday, call them traditions if you wish. Susi is heavily involved in the annual local Christmas Wish Program and this year she took up crocheting lap blankets for the vets in the Yountville Veterans Home. For many years we have both spent Christmas Day delivering hot meals to shut-in seniors all over rural Sonoma County. A satisfying project, but we are currently taking a break from it. Dealing with so much loneliness takes a toll. For the time being, our “tradition” usually involves brunch and a movie. This may sound odd, but I am good with this. The traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings can, as you say, be stressful. Often they do not achieve the purpose of bringing the entire family closer together. Take my own experience. My entire family (siblings, in-laws, grandchildren, plus some others) all gathered every year on both Thanksgiving and Christmas at my mother’s home until she went into assisted living, and then at the home of my older sister who was closest to her. We were all within 125 miles or so. Those gatherings were generally cordial, friendly, and, after a glass of wine or two, even fun. Everyone shared the work. If I had been asked back then, I would have said we siblings were pretty close. After my mother’s death, those traditions quickly fell by the wayside. I did not see that coming. Perhaps we were all burned out on tradition. In hindsight, however, and while we often justified those gatherings as “for the kids,” I realized that we were really doing it primarily for my mother. We all felt that it was expected of us and we were obliged to comply. It is clear that the relationships among siblings had actually suffered. I cannot explain exactly why that happened, but I would very much like my own children to have a close relationship even though they are separated by distance. For different reasons and in different ways, siblings can be as important as immediate family or very close friends. My wife’s sister passed away a few weeks ago. Although she was surrounded by a loving husband and a small army of children and grandchildren, I saw how important it was to her during her last year to have a sister that she could talk to about the fears and concerns that could not easily be discussed with those closer to her. The past couple of years have been very difficult for my daughter. As much as we might like to, we cannot protect our children from all adversity. She and her brother have had a lot of ups and downs over the years, but in the face of significant adversity for one of them, they seem to have finally bonded in a healthy and lasting way. Apart from their own immediate families, they (and not us) have each become the other’s first line of support. This makes me feel good as I hope that both of them will be around a long after we are gone. I believe that, in part, their own relationship has ultimately flourished because we did not force it and they did not have to interact on our terms or because of any date- specific traditions of their parents. I want them to drive the when and where of family gatherings. I want it to be about them, not us. By minimizing the stresses and toxic pettiness that can often infect such gatherings, I believe that we are helping to keep the family close and supportive. The goal will always be to try and all get together as often as possible, but I am not concerned about exactly when that might be. If the underlying relationships are strong, it will happen. Enjoy your blog and sorry about the small book. Merry Christmas to you, Syd, and your family.

    • yosemitesyd

      No apologies necessary, Doug. I enjoy the dialogue.I was particularly struck by your observation that your mom had been the driver of traditions that fell by the wayside after she passed. When my mom died, I felt the mantle of matriarch pass to me. Like you, I decided to give my children freedom to make their own traditions with the hope that it would be inclusive of family, and it has. Like you and Susie, Joel and I cherish our own space while happy in the knowledge that the young people are forming bonds with each other and including us. And a Merry Christmas to you as well.


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