The holidays are coming, and many cultures have traditions at this time of year that bring families together and create lasting memories. I had a conversation with some friends last week, and we had vastly different childhood memories of the season, but they had a common feeling and emotion attached. One woman remembered the unique smells- mandarin oranges (at that time a luxury found only in December!), the scent of cloves and heavenly aroma of shortbread baking. Another friend from Trinidad remembers the smell of Ox tail stew filling the home, as the house was cleaned from top to bottom, painted(!), and new curtains and pillows were put out for display. I remember the smell of pine needles from the tree, getting new pajamas after my Christmas eve bath, waiting forever to fall asleep and then the excitement of opening stockings on my parents' bed. We all had to wait impatiently while Dad set up the video camera to record us coming around the corner to see the tree with all the presents for the first time.
Growing up, we enjoyed many family traditions through Christmas. We ate exactly the same food for the special meals, used our red and green tartan table cloth and each person sat at their regular place at the table. My wife came from a much less traditional family. She did something different each Christmas, going on vacations or visiting extended family out of town and creating memories with these trips. When we were married, there was an adjustment as we found a balance in the new family we created. She taught me to become more flexible and I think I've shown her the benefits of some regular family traditions. Our new family has created our own set of traditions that have evolved over the years.
What I have found, dealing with patients in my practice and in my own life, is that some times our traditions serve us well. They create memories and bring the family closer together. Some times they don't serve us well. They lead to unhealthy stress and tension that could be avoided if we examine the tradition and consider the purpose of the practice.
For instance, holidays are a time we like to give gifts. Commercial advertising has built this in to a huge deal- leading us to confuse our "wants" with our "needs". Thus many people start the new year with credit card debt and the associated tension that accompanies it.
Also, holidays are a time we have meals together, but the preparation of the meals can lead to stress and injury as one individual tries to do it all, neglecting their own health to provide a feast for the family. (For this reason alone, I see more emergency visits at this time of year than any other!)
We meet with extended family and can experience tension in relationships. Having that annual fight with a family member over who helps more with the dishes is not a holiday tradition we really need to hold on to!
If you are looking for some tips for some healthy holiday traditions, see our previous blog "A Recipe for Healthy Holiday Times." As I have learned from my wife to let go of some of my routines, I hope you can let go of the traditions that are not serving you well, and still embrace those that bring joy and peace to you and your family over the coming holidays!