A fresh take on traditions
This year, our family’s Christmas season started with a phone call the night before Thanksgiving. “Surprise! I’m coming home and setting the Christmas tree up tonight!”
My husband always calls me when he’s finished at work and on his way home, but he NEVER puts up our Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I thought once we had kids and my husband was outnumbered, he’d cave if we asked him enough times. Nope, he never has... until this year! I had no idea why he’d had a sudden change of heart, but as far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter.
The night before Thanksgiving the tree stood in our living room, and I felt like the happiest person in the world. My grandma has always had an enormous, beautiful Christmas tree and one that’s tied to so many magical memories and traditions. Standing at 11 feet tall and full of unique ornaments and colorful lights, it feels like I can find something new every time I look at it, even though I’ve seen those ornaments for years. I can even remember back to when it used to be a real, live tree and was so covered with tinsel that if you walked close enough you’d be covered with it too.
I don’t think I could ever recreate the magic that's in my Grandma’s home at Christmas time (I think my house is missing the smell of homemade suckers), but I think I must have inherited her love for this holiday centerpiece. Its glow lights up our living room and fills me up every time I look at it.
Traditions were such an important part of my childhood, especially around Christmas time, and they're experiences and memories I still cherish. I think that’s why I’m trying so hard to recreate the same thing for my little family in my own small way.
So this year, I’ve been trying something new. And it’s changed everything. It’s a simple shift in mindset that has truly transformed my traditions from an activity I want to be special to experiences that actually feel that way. Instead of focusing on what we’re doing, I’m trying to focus on the feeling I want us to experience. That’s it.
Focus on a feeling
Here’s what that looked like for me this year doing one of my very favorite traditions - decorating the Christmas tree. I wanted Thanksgiving of all days to be overflowing with thankfulness and joy. So with bins spread across our living room floor, Christmas music playing in the background, and a step ladder and two little ones at the ready, I thought, I’m so grateful. And with that intention, the rest came easy.
Naturally, with Shadyn (my 5-year-old) in charge, all the ornaments ended up on the bottom 2 feet of the tree… until Naomi (my almost 2-year-old) started taking them off and throwing them like toys. Before I knew it, Shadyn was on the step ladder and all the ornaments had made their way to the top 2 feet of the tree and Naomi had found something else to keep herself busy with - the bagful of spare ornament hooks, of course.
I’m sure on another morning I would have felt frustrated (and exhausted!) watching the instantaneous mess unfold, but with the hope for gratitude fresh on my mind, I stood back and smiled, wanting to remember this moment forever. My little guy on the step ladder, being a problem-solver and initiative taker just like his dada, and not one bit put out by the change in plans. Happy, excited, capable, and loving every minute of it. And my toddler sitting on the floor in a tangled pile of ornament hooks - always wanting to be a part of things and always excited for something to “dump.”
Hard to believe only two Christmas’s ago I was pregnant and diligently staying down, on bedrest, praying our little girl would make it to us healthy and strong. Instead of immediately calling it quits until I could come back to the tree decorating by myself, I stepped into the experience and started handing the rest of the ornaments to Shadyn.
And while we decorated we talked. We told each other what our favorite thing about the tree was, what we were excited about this winter, and about memories from Christmas’s past. Shadyn loved hearing about why we have a tiny Christmas tree in our house too.
I still remember standing in the aisle at the craft store with Matt, picking out mini decorations for our shiny green 12” tree. It was small enough to fit on the shelf in our 418 square foot apartment and in our newly wed budget. Shadyn’s words, “And now we have a BIG house and a BIG tree.” To me, both feel closer to “just right” than huge but he’s right about one thing.
They’re certainly bigger than our first tiny apartment and our first tiny tree. That mini tree still has a special place in my heart and home every year, but having a “life-size” Christmas tree brings me more happiness than I can say. Yep, I’m grateful for our big tree. And even more grateful for the family I have to share it with.
Transform your traditions
This one simple shift in mindset - focusing on a feeling - transformed our Christmas tree decorating tradition so much, I did the same thing before we headed out the door to see a Christmas light show from the truck. This time, the feelings I picked were: cozy and exciting. Snuggled up with blankies and teddy bears, our kids watched the lights dance along with the music on the radio.
Halfway through, I broke out a special snack and my husband surprised them by driving through the light show twice. The entire event, driving time included, lasted less than an hour and took even less (much less!) time to plan, but we’re all still talking about that exciting, cozy ride in the truck.
So before jumping into the snowman building, the light seeing, or candy making, maybe you can give this practice a try. Decide what feelings you want to wrap up your tradition with. What emotion do you want to remember when you look back at this moment?
If you have little ones, what do you want them to feel through this experience? Decide on the feeling then hold it close. Let it be a whispering reminder to you when the ornament hooks end up in a tangled mess on the floor and the ornaments are flying through the air, rather than delicately hanging from the tree.
When you focus on a feeling, you realize traditions aren’t about the tree being decorated perfectly or that the time spent together is elaborate and planned out to the very last detail. They’re about bringing something special into the everyday. They’re about celebrating things like love, gratitude, family, hope, and generosity. Traditions, like most things, take on new meaning when experienced straight from your heart.