Traditions and celebrations are an important part of our lives and they define every culture in this world. We cherish them in our childhood memories and, when we build our own families, we want our children to have the best memories possible. But sometimes a lot of stress and frustration come with our attempts to create "the perfect day".
I was born and raised in Romania, a country that visitors often describe as a place of "beautiful, unaltered traditions". They truly are. I remembered the anticipation we, children, felt before these celebrations, the magic of the the preparations, and at the same time I remember my mom's exhaustion and that she was left with little energy to enjoy "the big day".
I have spent many years living and traveling in different countries around the world where I got fascinated about traditions and celebrations. I have researched and discussed with families from different continents about their way of creating celebrations that bring family members closer instead of generating stress and frustration. I have discovered that at the root of all kind of celebrations that truly bring joy, lays authenticity.
Here is what I have learned, applied to my own family and that I would like to share with you:
- Self-knowledge. Get curious about what holidays, celebrations, birthdays and anniversaries truly mean to you, to your partner, your children... Sometimes we assume that everybody is on the same page but often it's not the case. Partners bring at least two cultures (if not more) from their own families into the one they create . So make sure that all the family members are aware about each other's expectations, needs and dreams.
- Define your family values. They are who we are as a family. So it's hard to create authentic celebrations without knowing your family values. You can try this tool I have successfuly used in my coaching practice and adapted for my my family (and many others), to work on your family values.
- Keep your options open. Because some holidays have been celebrated in a particular way for hundreds years or because now they are celebrated in a particular way by our friends, families or communities, it doesn't mean that we need to follow the same "recipe". Give yourself permission to do things differently in your own family.
I found myself hating all the rush before Christmas to find presents for all my family but I thought that this was the only way to do it. When my husband and I started our life together, I openly told him that for me Christmas does not equal presents. So we decided that instead of presents we could travel somewhere and spend more time together. We continued doing this after we had children. It has become our little family's tradition. One of our family's values is harmony so in order to keep this harmony we replaced the "presents hunt" that we found dreadful with time spent together.
I love the idea of counting the days until Christmas but I didn't find meaning in the Advent Calendars with sweets and chocolate, so when my daughter was 1 year old, I did this calendar for her. Each day we spent time together doing something we both enjoyed. Last year, when she was two, I made a "Gratitude Calendar": each day we took some time to express our gratitude for the things that were already there, in our lives.
- Follow your intuition. Once you know what your family needs, your own values and you give yourself permission to create celebrations that are in line with your family values, you can create your own celebrations the way they suit you. You will then align your needs, values and dreams. Following your intuition will provide you the inspiration and ideas to create celebrations that bring you closer as a family and have meaning to you.
- Make memories. This is what your children and yourself will cherish over the years. It's usually not the expensive present or the perfectly decorated table. It's in the little things. We all know a child who preferred playing with the wrapping paper instead of the expensive present she was gifted for a celebration. This is because usually, children find joy in the little things. They feel the ambiance and the magic of celebrations and what they remember are the little details, words, moments that were genuine and real.
- With all this in mind, be ready to make some compromises too. Once you know what your family needs and the way of celebrating reflects your values, you will need to find a way to communicate it to your larger family and friends. You might need to compromise too and find a balance between your way on other people's way of celebrating holidays and special days.
We don't do presents for Christmas in our little family but we realized that it was important for our respective families to continue this tradition. So we do exchange presents with our larger family and they find a lot of joy in offering presents to our daughter. We discuss before they buy something and they always ask for suggestions and ideas for her presents. It seems respectful and balanced for everyone.
Another question I asked myself and the families around the world I discussed with was "Can preparation for authentic celebration be a joy?"
The answer is "YES!" and here is what you can do:
- allow imperfection and give up control (at least a little bit). As a perfectionist, I know that this is hard, but I'm always so happy when I let things go. It's important to have a goal and a clear idea of how your authentic celebrations look like but then let it go and embrace life as it comes. The pressure of the "perfect day" takes away a lot of joy and usually children notice the tension too
- stay connected. While we are stressed and busy to get everything right for the big day, we lose connection with the others in the family. Keeping your usual daily rhythm during preparations and mindful about your family's needs will help you keep a spirit of togetherness
- involve your children. Children love to be involved in the preparation For them this is important as the celebration itself. As they tend to go to a slower pace and find joy in the present moment, and because their joy is contagious, tuning into their own pace, will bring you joy too. You will all stay connected and your children' participation into the preparation will help you embrace imperfection.
- delegate and downsize. We tend to want to overdo and overspend for holidays and celebrations but less is more. Keeping it just a bit simpler than what you have planned can make a huge difference. I'm usually very excited about food and love cooking for celebrations so I usually make a list of everything I would like to cook and then only decide to do the half of it :) I have learned this the hard way but now that I found how to "downsize", I don't get overwhelmed anymore. Delegating is very important too (especially before you burn-out ;) Partners, family, the caterer around the corner, the baker, the flower shop, .. they can be your family's allies and precious resources to make preparations enjoyable and fun.
- remember that as for many things in life, it's not the destination, its 'the journey. Life doesn't happen only on "the big day", life it's happening right now and each moment counts.