The small television in the hospital room flashed the familiar sights of colorful floats and massive balloons high in the sky. The sound of high school marching bands competed with beeping monitors and the hum of the blood pressure cuff squeezing my arm tight at regular intervals.
I love a parade.
Never mind I hadn’t slept a single minute the night before, what with a newborn crying at me all night long. Never mind the stream of tears that fell from my cheeks onto her swaddled-up self as I gave into the fact I had no idea what I was doing. Never mind the husband and nurse who had finally rescued me after the longest night of my life and gently encouraged me to get some sleep.
I had not slept. My mind could not rest. And the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was on – a Turkey Day tradition. I couldn’t sleep now.
We left the hospital with our baby girl just in time to make it home to change and head back out the door to my mom’s house and the Thanksgiving feast awaiting us. After a night of no sleep I was a zombie, but I went through the motions. I ate turkey and stuffing and all the rest of it around a familiar table of familiar people.
When I see photos from that day, I see an exhausted new mom. I wonder why I didn’t escape to take the nap I so desperately needed. I wonder why nobody insisted that I do so. Mostly, I wonder why I didn’t just break from tradition.
Right now we’re in the thick of parenting and making family traditions. With a four- and six-year old who know that Christmas is coming and can easily rattle off all that entails, it’s easy to see the value of family tradition.
But sometime between childhood and adulthood, tradition became less gift and more obligation. I realized I have a propensity to value the tradition more than the very people the tradition serves to make feel loved and known.
Last Thursday, Thanksgiving looked very different for us. Oh, you better believe the parade was on our TV that morning. But it wasn’t accompanied by the usual rush to get out the door to make it to our first stop.
Instead, we set up a folding table in our living room, and I added a tablecloth and centerpiece and tried like crazy to make it feel like a proper dining room table. My husband cooked his first turkey and made all the familiar side dishes. We had only one guest while the rest of our family scattered to the other sides of their families to feast.
That’s the thing about tradition. It always evolves, doesn’t it?
The people around the table change. A new baby brings a fresh joy and a distracted mama to the table. The grown son who won’t make it home this year brings dissapointment. The empty seat of a loved one lost earlier in the year brings a fresh wave of grief. A new boyfriend brings an uneasy dynamic to a once comfortable atmosphere…
The circumstances around the table change, too. Health problems, economic trials, rebellious children –all threaten the very establishment of tradition.
I want to embrace tradition while fully acknowledging its certain evolution. I want to look around the table and feel the gift of the presence of whoever is there. Whether it’s a table for twenty or a table for two, I want to look into the eyes of my loved ones and make them know that their presence is enough.
When we hold too tightly to tradition, we can squeeze all of the value right out of it. The more I demand things stay the same, the harder it becomes to find the joy I so desperately seek.
In a scene in season three of Downton Abbey, the British matriarch Violet Crawley takes issue with her daughter-in-law’s American mother’s disregard for tradition.
“You Americans never understand the importance of tradition,” says Crawley.
“Yes we do, we just don’t give it power over us. Maybe you should think about letting go of its hand.”
Jesus gave us pretty simple, though not easy, instructions. Love God and love others. If my traditions help me serve that purpose, I’m all in. But where I find the tradition ruling over me, I want to be quick to release its power over me. This Christmas, I want to embrace tradition but hold it lightly so I can respond to the Spirit’s leading without hesitation.
Are your traditions serving you well? Do they help you love your people better?
*Feature image by Chelsea Francis