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SOUCHERAY: Keeping traditions that have lasting value

We have now entered the busiest, most hectic time of the year. We will have the normal demands on our time - going to work, taking care of our families, our homes and automobiles. In addition, we will now add all the expectations and needs of the holidays upon us.

What if this year, we make a decision to do things differently? What if we choose not to see the activities, parties, and engagements as demands on us, but rather as requests for our time and attention? As a request, these experiences become optional and perhaps more enjoyable. They become get-to's rather than have-to's. When we begin to see that the events and expectations in the season ahead have some choice involved with them, we may be able to breathe a little easier.

As you take out your boxes of ornaments, lights, and decorations, leave a few in their wrappers. Do not use everything. Allow yourself to let go of the need to repeat every tradition exactly as you have done so in the past. Change things up a bit. Give yourself permission to let go and to offer simplicity to this holiday season and you may find that some of the joy and happiness returns for you and your family. It is also possible that no one will notice that things have changed.

The important element of this holiday season is to hold to those traditions that have helped to mold you and shape you as a family and allow those that are fillers to float away. A family might ask how they will know which traditions the family sees as definitive and which are expendable.

This will probably require a family meeting, but hold it over the supper table some night so no one perceives it as added stress. Ask each family member, from the oldest to the youngest, to share their favorite holiday tradition. Those that are listed most likely will become have-to's, so that every member of the family sees that their voice has influence and importance in the family. Next, list the traditions that no one suggested as a favorite and talk about how important they are to keep or let go.

Realize that there is likely to be some talking over each other, some raised voices, some confusion, some messiness with this process. See if you can tolerate this type of conversation and not label it as an argument. The calmer you can remain as this process unfolds will show each family member the value of expressing their opinions and that each voice will be heard and respected. In other words, no one is allowed to say, "That's stupid," or "I hated that!"

What you will likely have when you have completed this process is a holiday season in which everyone gets something that is important and memorable for them. It will also demonstrate that a heated, animated discussion can exist in your home and that it can be respectful and productive. And that each person's viewpoint will be honored and valued. This alone will be a lifelong lesson for each family member.

One tradition that we started a few years ago is called "Christmas Café," which is a breakfast served on Christmas Eve morning. Our youngest son and I make a menu - of course, it's the same menu year after year - and take each person's order the evening before the breakfast. He and I then get up very early and prepare the meal, with aprons on, Christmas music playing in the background, and having a wonderful time working together to get everything prepared before the others begin to wander downstairs.

This event has become a "have-to" for us. Everyone arranges their holiday schedule around this breakfast, as it is the official beginning of a wonderful, long celebration of what it is to be a member of our family and how much we treasure and love one another.

This can be the essence of every holiday tradition we have as a family. These traditions should help us define the love and connection we have with one another. They should be the glue that hold us together and help us say, "I belong to this family. I am important here. These people love me and I love them in return."