Traditions: Does Rebellion Count?

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Our approach to traditions has been stripped down over the years, in reaction to what goes wrong when we get too caught up in expectations. We started with… well. Really, we started with the wedding, went on to Christmas and birthdays, and have wound up applying a standard of low-key to all our activities. In a world which offers “perfection” as the usual standard for all activities, we have chosen instead to go for “good enough.” I am assured by the happiness researchers that this is the path to salvation. 😛

Our simplest ritual involves sitting down for dinner. We were having stressful evenings almost every day, with yelling, tears, arguments, and stomping away from the dinner table. Sometimes it was even the kids. Now, our nightly routine at the dinner table includes a moment to hold hands and breathe. That’s it. Sometimes if supper looks particularly complicated, or is something that is particularly well-loved, it gets a murmur of thanks. When there is meat, somebody usually says a word of thanks to the animal. And that’s it. Our dinner routine. It has made an enormous difference, because it reminds us of why we are there, and how lucky we are to be together in a part of the world with such abundance.

That being laid out, let me explain what happens at our house on Christmas day. We’re not Christians. (Shhh… some of the grandparents may not have figured that out yet.) But let’s be honest. This is the day to end all days in the North American kids calendar. I’m just not committed enough to my own religious beliefs to turn away from that. Even when we were first married, we always insisted that Christmas Day was to be held at our own home. I am unwilling to get the kids up and then make them move to a grandparent’s house in the middle of the day, and I wanted to set that up before it was an issue. This is a day on which I insist that the grownups be grownups, and leave the realm of expectations to the kids.

Over the years our day has evolved. One year, maybe when we still only had one child, my husband and I decided to forgo Christmas Dinner in favour of whatever struck our fancy. That year, we had grilled coriander root chicken from the cookbook Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. (Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford. Best series of cookbooks/travelogues EVER!) It worked so well that we instituted a tradition of “Whatever we feel like cooking” in place of the turkey with the trimmings.

About five years ago, that all went wrong. What I felt like cooking was a very fancy meal, but everybody in my family had been ill, and nobody felt like eating it. We had a sad dinner, I had a fight with my husband, and I swore I was never doing it again, because I had become over-invested in the outcome. Our big dinner is now held some time in the week before The Big Day, and the link to Christmas has been removed, reopening that day to freedom, joy, and lying around like slugs. That’s right. Our Christmas tradition has become one giant Pyjama day. The tree always has a collection of puzzles, boardgames, family movies, and new books. If people’s PJ collection is looking scant, a new pair will arrive. The stockings always contain favourite snack foods, a sphere in the toe and a cylinder in the leg. I have a great time finding gifts that will surprise people and have the right shape. (A rolled up magazine makes a great stocking extender, BTW.) And dinner the last few years has been a frozen lasagne, because I want a day off, too. It is an utterly unconventional approach to Christmas, but traditional in its own way. I look at it like this: This is the last day of the year that things are still closed. It is my last-ditch attempt at what passes for Sabbath. A day of rest. We used to be expected to take one every seven days; it is not unreasonable to institute one once a year. So our new rallying cry is: “Merry Christmas! PJ’s All ‘Round! Who wants another piece of chocolate?”


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

13 responses to “Traditions: Does Rebellion Count?”

  1. You know, I really LOVE my dad’s turkey dinner, but he so often gets stressed about it, that I don’t really see the point (other than carrying on a mindless tradition). The other day my mom and I were talking about this Christmas: my grandparents are coming, and grandma doesn’t like turkey “so we’ll have to make a ham too.” I said, why not just have ham instead? “Because dad doesn’t like it.” Why not make something completely different then? “Uh, uh, uh…” I mean really – why not make lasagna and not stress?? Since it will be at my house, I will feel better about laying down the law this year. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Yeah. We had the same thing with my father’s turkey dinner. Great meal, but the agony of getting everybody to the table… oh, the Drama!

      We worked towards this solution, over several years, though… and we didn’t have to get buy-in from any of the grandparents. But having a conversation about what we were really trying to do led to our unconventional solution. It also gave me an excuse to boost Solstice (which is when we typically hold our Big Feast, now).

  2. Your family’s Christmas sounds just delightful! We’ll be at the home of my dad and stepmom, where there will be many guests, so I can’t quite do PJs, but my Christmas outfit this year will be … yoga pants.

    And I really want to thank you for sharing your dinner ritual. With my family growing up, we held hands and thanked God for something (for the meal, for the snow, for the sunshine, whatever) as grace before dinner. I’ve wanted to do something similar, but my husband feels uncomfortable with the ritual, even without the inclusion of God. And then the last time we were at my dad’s home, where the ritual continues, we discovered that the Critter loves the holding hands part. He’s always asking to hold hands during dinner! So I think you’ve just given our family a new dinnertime ritual. Thank you!

  3. You weave a wonderful theme of simplicity through your life which is evident in your tradition. I think more people should follow suit and perhaps we would find ourselves truly entrenched in the meaning of Christmas- simple gratitude for what we have and our connections to each other. What better way to love life and find our peace?

  4. I am so with you on the “good enough” – I often forget to downgrade my perfection ideal, but I’m much happier when I do. And as you mention, too, having lower expectations means they’re more likely to be met (or exceeded).

    We spent our first two Christmases as a married couple at our parents’ houses, and after that we refused, saying it was time for us to establish our own traditions. I was very glad for that. Our Christmas is definitely a lounging day, and I love it.

    • Weird Al? No, that was more of a my family thing. Also, we were teenagers. I might when they are older.

  5. I love that you take the day off, too! My husband and I also instituted the no-travel rule, but we now do have my sister visiting us on Christmas. And her “I don’t eat vegetables, or much of anything else for that matter” latest boyfriend. And I cook, though I do enjoy it for now. As kids though, we had a pajama day too. It was glorious, just playing with the new things all day long, and maybe taking a walk to peek into peoples’ windows and see their trees.

  6. Every year I say I’m not going to get stressed about Christmas and every year I end up stressed anyway. I have this expectation somehow that we need to have a big celebration, something to make Christmas different from every other day. But if I’m so stressed over the details, is it worth it?

    Your Christmas traditions sound very relaxing, and I like your traditions around stuffing stockings. 🙂 I think I’m going to make use of your sphere/cylinder technique this year.

  7. Wow, I love it!

    Especially this part: “It is my last-ditch attempt at what passes for Sabbath. A day of rest. We used to be expected to take one every seven days; it is not unreasonable to institute one once a year.”

    Amen to that. 🙂

    We try to take things slow, too. Though we visit my parents every other year, and they do the whole Christmas thing BIG. We’re leaning more and more each year toward Solstice being our celebrating day when we’re on our own.

    Thank you for coming by my blog and commenting. It’s nice to “meet” you.