The holidays have a way of being both joyous and wistful.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. We usually celebrated it at my grandma’s house. She, my mom and my three aunts would prepare food in the kitchen, my uncles would sit in the living room watching football and I would go off and play with my cousins.
It all seems so traditional now, even though our family wasn’t at all conventional (and neither was our New Mexican menu). There were 13 of us, including two single moms, a widow and a mentally disabled uncle. The holidays and an occasional birthday were the only times we all gathered, even though we lived in the same city.
When we did come together, certain things always predictably and wonderfully happened. I’d sneak one too many olives off the table and be too full for dinner. Grandma would bellow the word “Grace!” in lieu of a meal prayer (and would then laugh at herself). As the night grew later my mom and her sisters would get louder and funnier, making all of us laugh, and then eventually a chocolate pie would appear signaling the end of the evening.
It was perfect.
But traditions change. One aunt moved away, another got caught up in drugs, my mom joined a cult.
After that, holidays became less of a celebration and more of a formality. For that reason, over time the season became less joyful. I didn’t travel home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or prepare a big meal – instead I spent those days in reflection out in nature hiking with my dogs.
I was content with this new tradition I had created, but deep down I did long to be back in my grandma’s house with everyone again. Most of us didn’t even speak anymore, and I wondered how everyone was and what their new customs were.
The holidays took another turn for me when I moved to Spokane seven years ago. Two pastors, Jim and Andy, insisted that I not dine alone on Thanksgiving or Christmas. They welcomed me into their home, gave me a seat at their table and even hung a stocking for me on their mantle. Being around family – loved ones – again made the holidays happier.
A new tradition had begun (even though a hike with the dogs was still a must). But in time, things changed again. Their family grew, a romance blossomed in my life, and we slowly started doing our own things.
Another tradition – an established behavior – had been broken.
On my hike this Thanksgiving I was pondering the word “tradition” and its significance. Why are we so attached to our customs? Partly, I believe, because they connect us to our past and partly because they help us feel accepted, like we belong to a group.
Also it’s because traditions symbolize consistency, security – and we fear impermanence.
Nothing, though, is changeless.
I love watching the sunset in the evenings. It’s one of my favorite things about living in Spokane. The sun will always go down, but the sky will never look the same twice. It’s beautiful, in part, because it’s fleeting. Perhaps that’s a way to look at tradition too.
I’ve been lucky enough to belong to an incredible pack – twice. I hope to always find my way to a mountain on holidays, and then spend the remainder of the day with people I love. But if things change, that’s OK. The evolution of tradition, I’ve learned, is something worth celebrating.
Tracy Simmons, a longtime religion reporter, is a journalism teacher and editor of Spokane FaVS, a website dedicated to covering faith, ethics and values in the Spokane region.