How to Use Tradition to Save Your Celebrations

holiday self-care marital self-care parental self-care self-care tips
A mother baking cookies with her kids. How to use tradition to save your celebrations for caregivers.

Tradition – a longstanding custom or practice.

I love celebrations! I enjoy the planning and preparation that goes into a holiday, birthday or a special milestone.  I get excited about decorations and menus. I look forward to special events with anticipation as I imagine celebrating with my family and watching my kids enjoy themselves.

Unfortunately, living with a critical illness and special needs diagnosis doesn’t always give us the freedom to enjoy these special family celebrations the way we would like to.  My family spent many holidays, birthdays and anniversaries celebrating from a hospital room or the Ronald McDonald House.  Other celebrations threatened to be canceled as we fretted over side effects and low blood counts. There are many hurdles that undermine our ability to create happy family memories, for us, and for our children.

As parents, we want so much to give our kids the experiences that other children are having. We want them to enjoy the magic and fun of holidays and to feel that special pride on their birthday. When our circumstance make this difficult, we often feel sadness over what our family is missing out on and worry that we are not doing enough to make those celebrations happen.

Trying to keep up with all of the expectations related to holidays and celebrations is just too much to realistically expect.  The good news is that we can still provide joy, celebration and happy family memories by choosing just one or two traditions that mean the most to us, and to our family.

Think about when you were a child.  What memories stand out the most for you?  Most likely, you remember just the cherished traditions your family repeated each year.  This is what your kids will remember too.  You don’t have to break under the pressure of a long “to do” list, most of which will be forgotten by next month.  You can stand confident in the assurance that even just one or two, impactful traditions will give your family the same rich experiences and memories they would have had if your circumstances were different.

Traditions allow us to take control of our family celebrations, even during times of challenge. However, traditions are also an effective tool in safeguarding our well-being, as parents and caregivers, and can have significant impact on all areas of our self-care.

Below, you will find 10 suggestions for how to use the power of tradition to save your celebrations.

Each suggestion corresponds to one of the 10 paracords, or areas of self-care, in The Parachute Project™. As always, do not try to apply all of these suggestions at one time.  It is always better to focus your attention on just one action, that most closely applies to your personal circumstances, until it becomes a natural part of your self-care practice before moving on to another.  Approaching self-care this way, increases the likelihood that you will stay consistent, be successful and enjoy the benefits of your efforts long-term.

READ MORE: 10 Paracords of Self-Care


Physical Benefits of Tradition:

When the demands of our circumstances are heavy, we don’t always have the physical energy we need to prepare for a celebration.  The benefit of a tradition is that you are intention is to repeat it over and over. So, once you have set it up the first time, you will be prepared to use it again in the future. The next time, won’t require as much work to gather materials, set it up, or plan it out saving you precious physical energy.

When you are working with an established tradition, you have the details figured out to the point that it is possible to communicate instructions to others.  For this reason, it is easier to ask for help when  preparing for an established family tradition, if needed.

For example, maybe your tradition is to put lights up on your house.  If circumstances prevent you from doing it yourself, you could ask someone else to do it for you.  You have done it before and so you can tell someone else exactly where to find what they need and how you have done it in the past.  In this way, you can still enjoy your tradition even when circumstances prevent you from physically preparing for it yourself.


Mental Benefits of Tradition:

As parents, we often find that managing our circumstances, along with the added demands of our child’s complex care needs, means that the mental load we carry is heavy.  Expectations related to holidays, birthdays and other celebrations can add to that load and exacerbate the stress we are already feeling on a day to day basis.

Family traditions are a great way to eliminate the mental effort that goes into planning and organizing as we prepare for a special event. It takes time and energy to figure out how, when, and where you will celebrate, work out the details and then follow through. Because traditions are repeated, once the details have been established the first time the hard part is done. Next time, you won’t have to think about it nearly as much. You’ve done it before and you know how you did it. You’re just going to do it the same way again.

When our days are chaotic and difficult, it is that much harder to stay on top of small details or to remember to be intentional about planning special activities. Tradition can help us to build in those reminders and follow through on those details with minimal mental effort.

For example, following an Advent calendar is our main holiday tradition. However, inside of that calendar is a daily reminder to do something festive, such as: listening to music, drinking hot chocolate, reading a story or decorating Christmas cookies.  In this way, we can use our main tradition as an organized and automated reminder to help us follow through on those other smaller activities that make the holidays feel like the holidays.    


Emotional Benefits of Tradition:

As parents, it is natural that we sometimes feel sadness over how different our circumstances are from what we imagined they would be.  The reality of our child’s condition might make, once dreamed of, celebrations literally impossible. Yet, we often allow ourselves to feel guilty about what our family is missing out on. We believe that, if we just tried harder, we could make up for it. 

Tradition allows us to minimize those feelings of guilt by focusing on those activities that mean the most to us.  If we are most concerned about our children missing out on a specific experience that we know means a lot to them, we can focus our attention on building tradition around that activity.  Or, if we are most concerned about making sure we take time to connect with our children or with other family members or friends, we can choose a tradition that focuses on togetherness and quality time.

In this way, we can use tradition to eliminate those fears that we are falling short or that our family is missing out. We no longer have to worry that we are failing to fill the emotional needs of others. Instead, we can feel confident that, through tradition, we are not only filling their emotional needs but our own as well.


Spiritual Benefits of Tradition:

We may want, very much, to practice faith in our home and with our family on a daily basis. However, finding time to pray and read devotions, etc., as a family, may not be attainable in our current circumstances. Traditions can help to create an organized way in which we can incorporate our faith into holidays, events, or even into daily life.

Holidays and celebrations provide a perfect opportunity to share our faith with our family by incorporating our spiritual beliefs into our celebrations. Building tradition around these beliefs allows us to repeatedly share our faith with our family, instill in them our family values. and establish our chosen faith as part of our family culture.

Traditions also provide repetition. This allows us to review, with our children, the reasons for, and the benefits of, our faith over and over again. Even if they are not old enough to absorb what we want them to learn just yet, repeating the same faith filled tradition, year after year, will help those lessons to sink in far more than they would after a one-time experience. Also, associating these important lessons with a significant and sentimental family tradition will help them to stick in their memory for the long-term.


Social Benefits of Tradition:

Holidays and celebrations often bring with them additional social expectations. When our circumstances make it impossible for us to meet these expectations or to participate in gatherings in the same way we did before, this can cause tension in our outside relationships. 

When it comes to these special events, we do need to be sensitive to the feelings of extended family and friends. They care about us and want to share these celebrations with us. It is not a bad thing that they are disappointed when we can’t follow through. At the same time, we need to safeguard our well-being and not fall into feelings of guilt over circumstances we can’t control.  Tradition is a great tool to help us find balance in showing consideration for family and friends while also limiting the time and energy, we may not have, into social celebrations.

For example, in our family we have made it a tradition to rotate the holidays among our siblings.  This means that our family is expected to host only once, every few years. So, most years, we are only responsible for the minimal preparation of bringing a dish to share.  This also means that we will see everyone, on one day.  This minimizes the time and effort we need to devote to visiting which makes it easier to work around our already busy schedule.  In this way, we can make sure that we see the people we want to see, and who want to see us, while also participating in the celebrations that mean the most to us without the overwhelm.


Marital Benefits of Tradition:

Holidays and celebrations can cause significant distraction and take our attention away from that most important relationship with our partner. It is important that we be intentional to work with our spouse to prioritize and plan those traditions we both feel are of high value for our family.

If both partners have been included in the planning process, traditions can provide several benefits for your marital relationship.  First, you will both be reassured that the experiences you most value having with your children and family will be incorporated in to your family traditions.  Second, you will have already had a conversation about which activities, gatherings, etc. are most important to both of you and which will be the ones that you commit to following through on, year after year. This will eliminate the need to re-negotiate and make those decisions, over and over, removing a potential source of unnecessary stress. Finally, you will both be on the same page, knowing exactly what your partner’s expectations are, so that you can plan ahead and support each other through the busy season.

It can also be fun, and beneficial to your marital relationship, to set aside a special tradition just for the two of you.  This provides an opportunity for you to focus your attention on each other, reconnect and make memories, as a couple, in the middle of all the busyness.

READ MORE: How to Nurture Your Marriage This Holiday Season


Parental Benefits of Tradition:

As parents, we want to have opportunities to truly enjoy our children and to find fulfillment in our parenting experience. For this reason, we do our best to incorporate the magic and wonder of childhood into our family celebrations.

Family traditions help us to prioritize these experiences because they are not left to spur of the moment chance. They are established and repeated, and so all members of the family look forward to them and depend on them to a consistent part of their celebration. Traditions create a sense of stability and security for our children during times of crisis or challenge. They do the same for us. 

Traditions allow us, as parents, to slow down and take a time out from our daily demands. They give us an opportunity to truly experience the moment we are in because we don’t have to be distracted with  details or preparing for what comes next. Because that part has already been done, we are able to relax and enjoy the moment with our children.

It is never too late to start a new family tradition, no matter how old your children are. Do not assume they will not want to participate. They will enjoy being included in family plans and they will benefit from that time regardless of what the tradition is.  Older children can be given an important role to play. This will give them an honored sense of responsibility and a new perspective on the tradition, as they focus less on what they get out of it and more on what they are helping to provide for others.


Financial Benefits of Tradition:

When you repeat the same tradition year after year, you have all of the information you need to plan ahead for next time.  This is very helpful when you are on a budget and need to be proactive and intentional about your spending.

Tradition can help minimize the financial pressure of celebrations and holidays by placing high sentimental value on an activity that doesn't necessarily cost much financially.  Also, when there is a set expectation of exactly what you will be doing to celebrate, you can avoid those spontaneous and unexpected costs that often happen when you do not have a set plan in place.

For example, each year our family looks for a light display to visit.  Most are free or accept donations. This is an activity that we associate with the holidays and so it is an impactful, though low cost, way in which we are able to build memories and feel as though we have celebrated the season.  We are able to do this activity year after year, no matter what our current budget may be, and so we don’t have to worry about spending too much or feeling as though we are missing out.


Professional Benefits of Tradition:

Work life balance is always a challenge but it can get even more difficult during those busy holiday seasons when demands at work might also pick up. Depending on your profession, you may also have scheduling challenges that make it difficult to take time off during certain times of the year. 

Again, having an established tradition gives you the information you need to plan ahead. If you know in advance which dates, on the calendar, your tradition will be taking place, you can be proactive in making  the arrangements necessary to be there for your family. You may need to work around the demands of your job by taking a vacation day or finding a replacement to fill in for you. Planning ahead increases the likelihood that it will all work out and eliminate the stress of last minute plans. 


Despite the expectations of our “to do list”, we want to be able to experience the joy that holidays and celebrations bring, and the valuable distraction they can provide.  We want our family to enjoy these moments and we want to enjoy their enjoyment. As a result, we try to find ways to incorporate fun, excitement, and togetherness into these special days, without burning ourselves out. Tradition can help us to do just that.

Remember that traditions are not intended to be an additional source of pressure and stress. They are intended to alleviate these burdens and provide a gentle reminder for you and your family to slow down, to focus on each other, and to absorb the gifts right in front of you. Traditions are intended to provide you with opportunities to enjoy each other and whatever holiday event or celebration you have chosen, with minimal effort and preparation.

You do not have to cave into the pressure to do “all of the things”. If current circumstances make it difficult to celebrate in the ways you wish you could or in the ways you feel others are expecting that you will, it is OK to take a step back, evaluate what is most important to you and let the rest go.  You can choose to create just one or two high value traditions for yourself, and for your family, and repeat them year after year to build life-long memories you will treasure.

While you may not be able to imagine it in the circumstances you are in today, your struggle will not be your strongest memory you have of this time.  You will be able to look back on these days and remember the good memories you are building with your family in the middle of all the mess.  Your family traditions will become even sweeter as the years go by.



Self-Care Action Discussed in This Post:

Choose just one family tradition you will use to celebrate an upcoming holiday or event. Narrow down what is most important to you, your partner and your family, and which tradition will have the biggest impact in making you feel as though you have celebrated without missing out. Consider how this tradition will help to minimize the expectations and pressures you feel related to celebration, safeguard your well-being and allow you to truly enjoy making memories with those you love. Now that you have your tradition, celebrate and repeat!



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