You can change your traditions

17 April 2024

Something simple today!

A few years ago, I began a new holiday tradition: filling in a Christmas memory book.

This checks out, right? Holidays, traditions, and intentional memory making are kind of my thing (or, one of my things, anyway!), so this wasn’t a surprising development. What may surprise you, though, is how poorly I stuck to the tradition in the years since. I filled in about half of the questions the first year, and then a handful the second year… but always a bit half-heartedly. The prompts felt repetitive, and my answers weren’t capturing what actually mattered to me about the Christmas season.

This past year, I never pulled the book out of the Christmas boxes. And wow if this wasn’t Cultivate What Matters 101: if a goal (or a tradition, or project, or memory book) doesn’t really matter to you, you’re unlikely to follow through. 

(Cut to me, not following through.)

So I sat with that for a minute. On the surface, this memory book seemed to be checking all the boxes: I love Christmas and value celebrating it in a meaningful way. I love writing. I love records that add up over time. Still, this book wasn’t doing it for me! As I packed away the Christmas boxes, though, I hit on something that I thought actually would be meaningful to me…

As longtime readers know, I pour significant time and effort into creating our Christmas cards and newsletters each year. It’s a project that connects me to my grandmother and to fond childhood memories of sitting around a table with my siblings and parents, adding our signatures one by one to the year’s letter. It scratches my creative itch, it connects me with people I love around the country, and it satisfies my desire to tell a story about the year as it’s ending — to tie a bow on it, if you will. It delights me to no end.

What would be meaningful, I realized, was finding a better way to enjoy those Christmas cards I work so hard on, as well as a few photos from each Christmas season. No, it’s not a 1:1 switch, but once I realized that this mattered much more to me than recording what we ate on Christmas Eve (spoiler alert, it’s always the same) or what songs everyone was loving that year (spoiler alert, they’re almost always the same), it was an easy one.

Now, our Christmas cards, letters, and photos live in a simple album that’s easy for everyone to flip through. I couldn’t love it more.

I know this is a tiny, simple switch, but to me, it”s emblematic of a larger idea, and so it seemed worth sharing, in case you might need the same reminder I did:

You can change traditions, no matter how long they’ve been running or how much money they cost to get off the ground. You can tweak them, refresh them, or scrap them completely.

You can change the way you capture memories. You can start something new (even if it won’t capture your whole marriage or your kids’ whole childhood!) and you can retire something that no longer fits (even if you’ve invested many years into it!).

Saying goodbye to what doesn’t matter (or what matters less) makes room for the things that matter more (and the things that matter most). That’s a reminder I always need. You, too?

Friends, I’d love to hear: have you scrapped or significantly changed a tradition or way you record memories? It can be really hard!

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April 17, 2024 7:36 am

I feel like I am SO hesitant to start memory keeping traditions (despite desperately wanting to!) because of what you put words to at the end — what if I change my mind?!? I’ve already done it once, though, and it’s been so good: I originally was hand writing cute things Foster did and said in a beautiful journal, but that felt so stressful and hard in his first year than I seldom did it. So I set up an email account for him and now email him whenever something sweet happens. Much easier and releases me from my need to have things be beautiful but actually gets the memory down! (Also, ordering this album now — I’ve been looking for one for our own Christmas cards!)

April 17, 2024 1:33 pm

I love customs and traditions. I love them so much that I’ve started, stopped, adopted, adapted and changed so many that I’ve kept or tried to keep over the years! LOL I think more than anything I love acts and activities that remind people of what and who matters to them. And I’ve met so many people from different walks of life who have such great traditions that I always want to try to make them my own, even if it ends up being just for a season. While most families consider sending Christmas cards an annual practice, my husband and I sent out our first family card this year… after nearly 11 years of marriage and three years into being parents. It was nice to send those out and people seemed to really like getting them! We want to send them again. We’ll see what happens ;) Sort of as a result of that, we did not send Valentine Cards from my daughter to her cousins/aunts/grandparents, something we had been doing since she was about 6 months old. For me, I try to give myself permission to change and that helps me feel at peace.

Kelly Strawberry
April 18, 2024 9:53 pm

Sometimes I’ll think I remember something being a tradition as a child (neighborhood block parties, church homecoming pig pickins, etc) and then I realize that it actually only happened a couple of times. As children it seems we remember even small things being much bigger in our minds, which helps me feel better when some family traditions might not be consistent and doable each year.
Also, I’ll never get over that Christmas tree. :)