Is “new tradition” an oxymoron? Nonsense!

I went to a high school that I loved dearly. It was founded in 1915 by a very clever lady who was short on cash but long on imagination—and she created traditions that subtly taught her girls all kinds of things that a more well-funded institution might have hired specialists to instill.

Recently I have been spending a lot of time back on campus. And I am struck both by how firmly ingrained the traditions are—and how much they have evolved since my student days.  I laugh as the girls insist that something is the way it’s been done “since Miss Charlotte,” when I could show them pictures that prove otherwise. They are comfortable in their traditions, as they should be; after all, comfort is one of the main functions of tradition.

These shifting traditions hold an interesting lesson for the holiday season, a six-week period seemingly made from pure tradition. Of course we have oyster stuffing at Thanksgiving. Of course we have colored bulbs  on our Christmas tree.  Of course we spend a marathon session making gingerbread houses for everyone on an ever-growing list. Even if we are allergic to oysters, have a secret fondness for white lights and never could quite get the hang of getting a gingerbread house to stick together, we find comfort in these traditions, so we hang on tight. But should we? Or can our holiday traditions evolve, too?

The composition of our families certainly does. There are new in-laws (and out-laws). Someone is pregnant and someone is in the hospital. And maybe, someone—chief architect of thousands of gingerbread houses of Christmases past—is only with us in spirit this year. With that shifting cast comes a choice: Do you soldier on, insisting on the same old, same old? Or do you embrace the possibility of change?

It doesn’t have to be radical. Mushrooms instead of oysters. Two types of lights. Gingerbread men, not houses. And the adoption of a “new tradition” that adds joy or simplifies something (dare we suggested buying the cookies?). It turns out that “tradition,” the most hidebound of activities, can actually be pretty flexible. And that new traditions, when born of love, bring just as much comfort as the old.