Today I am preparing for a special event in our house – a celebration of the beginning of the Christmas season. This tradition that we started some years back involves me finding where we stashed all the Christmas regalia from last year, trying to remember how to put the tree together (one of those really fake ones complete with artificial snow) and me scrambling to find eggnog to go with the treats while we decorate the tree. And while the preparation is not without its grumblings, it does serve to bring us together, to bring focus to a time that is special for us as a family. At this time, we tune out the other distractions and the daily pressures, and we tune in to our family and what is unfolding around us – the smell of a peppermint candle released from imprisonment, the first taste of eggnog, the sense of togetherness, and yes … the yearly disagreement about how to best put the lights on the tree.
Perfect it is not … but it is a custom that serves to ground us, to preserve what is important to us as a family. In North American society, we have fewer and fewer cultural traditions to safeguard these times; we have more and more distractions, expectations, things that threaten to pull our family apart. If we want to preserve what’s important to us – whether it is celebrating a special event, sitting together for a meal, or taking a Sunday walk – these things are not going to happen unless we take initiative to carve out time and space. We need to make room for what is important; if we do not, the busyness of life and the expectations of others will press in and leave us reacting to the urgent instead of honoring the important.
Reacting to the urgent had been a way of life in our family for many years, yet we yearned in the direction of connection and started slowly to put intentions into practice. We continue to find creative ways to fit our family’s needs. And while on one hand I am saddened by the lack of cultural wisdom and the absence of customs that innately serve to preserve relationships and community, I am also energized by the challenge to create my own customs. These are not meant to be rigid, closed in spaces, as some rituals can unintentionally become – but rather, sacred spaces… protected enough to keep out anything that might compete with the relationships you want to preserve, and yet open enough to allow for connection to happen in a natural way.
Celebrating the beginning of the Christmas season together allows us to collect and connect with each person in the family. Participating in shared activities like this allow for each one to feel like they belong. And our children need to experience being connected with us, to feel that they belong, to feel significant, to feel loved, to feel understood. By creating the environment for this to happen within our family we lower the risk of them finding that connection elsewhere.
So I intend to keep finding ways to preserve our family connections – both in big ways and in small. Now off to find the eggnog …