This Thanksgiving was a different experience for my family. After years of traveling north to Rochester, N.Y., to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s elderly mother and extended family (and lots of nieces and nephews), this year we traveled south to Kentucky.
The change in tradition was the result of a change in our family — several changes actually. My mother-in-law died last spring at the age of 93 , my daughter works in Kentucky with a women’s volleyball team and she had to work through the holiday, and my son is now living in New York City and both he and I had commitments in Centre County the Sunday after Thanksgiving. In short, lots of things have changed for us as a family, and that has meant that there will necessarily be changes in how we celebrate holidays and other special occasions together. It is, I think, the way of things.
While it is natural to mourn the changes, eventually we all have to create new traditions. For some of us, it happens when our children become adults and begin to have their own thoughts about how they want to spend the holidays (“What do you mean you want to go visit friends over New Year’s?”). For others of us, the changes come as a result of life changes that are more painful, perhaps a divorce or the death of a loved one. The more difficult the life change, the harder it is to think about what a new tradition might be — or even to imagine the possibility of a new tradition.
And yet, things change whether or not we want them to change. We can’t stop it from happening, but how we will deal with life’s inevitable changes is completely up to us. We can and should acknowledge that change is hard and often painful. Denying it won’t make it less true. But we can also look more deeply into our traditions to what has made them special and perhaps those things can be carried forward. For us, it was the relationships with family that made the holiday special, especially extended time with our children. Another family I know had a tradition of giving that was carried to a new venue, meeting new needs. What of value can be carried forward?
Imagination and being open to new possibilities can also help us navigate life’s changes. Scottish philosopher Carl Bard wrote, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” Thinking about what the new ending to the story might be, the possibilities of new traditions and the exploration of things not done before can help us face change with excitement rather than dread.
So perhaps the new Thanksgiving tradition in our household will be turkey followed by board games and bowling inKentucky. Or it might be those things for a while and then become something completely different. Healthy family relationships — healthy relationships in general — respond positively to the challenges of change. I hope that whatever our family traditions morph into over the years, we will be able to accept and receive them with grace and with gratitude.