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Life Kit: Keeping holiday traditions — and starting new ones


It's the holiday season, which means many of us are participating in annual traditions like tree and menorah lightings and gift exchanges. But it could also mean hours of stressful travel or recreations of elaborate family recipes without any help from said family. So yeah, sometimes traditions are some of the most beautiful things in our lives, and sometimes we're ready for them to end. NPR's Life Kit just did an episode on how to make your own traditions, and its host, Marielle Segarra, has some tips for you.

MARIELLE SEGARRA, BYLINE: A lot of the time, when our traditions don't work anymore, it's because we don't see the meaning behind them, or that meaning doesn't resonate with us.

ANDREA BONIOR: So, for instance, maybe I wanted a new tradition because the other ones felt empty or they felt too consumerist, and everybody was spending, you know, hundreds of dollars on these holiday gifts, and they just get forgotten about after a couple of months.

SEGARRA: That's Andrea Bonior. She's a psychologist with a podcast called "Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk And Advice." So a good place to start when you're dreaming up new traditions is to ask yourself, what do you want them to mean? Like, what will this holiday or event be about?

BONIOR: Is it about giving back to others?

SEGARRA: If so, you could volunteer at a food bank with your family every few months.

BONIOR: Is it about gratitude?

SEGARRA: Why not go around the table at dinner and say what you're grateful for?

BONIOR: Is it about finding the light in the darkness?

SEGARRA: Then you could go on a hike with your family or friends on the day of the winter solstice. Or let's say your family really values laughter and play. You could start a monthly game night, and every new participant has to have their photo taken wearing a leopard-print snuggie.

BONIOR: And now we have this connection. And it's silly to outsiders, but it brings us a sense of togetherness and comfort.

SEGARRA: Something else to consider as you create traditions is what's missing in your life or even what was missing when you grew up. Ehime Ora is a spiritual educator based in New York.

EHIME ORA: When you look at your childhood, what felt the most empty for you? What felt like you couldn't have that or it didn't feel enough? And that is really like, the hints of creating these newer, better traditions for yourself.

SEGARRA: Let's say you felt lonely, like your family wasn't part of a community, or you never really gathered with folks to celebrate. As an adult, you might decide to join a weekly class. That's a tradition, too.

ORA: I'm currently doing pottery, ceramics, and I connect with the people who are also in the classes with me. We laugh about, you know, how our clay cups, pots or whatever are looking messed up.

SEGARRA: Maybe you take it even further and host a monthly potluck with your pottery friends, or you gather folks for a party on pi day - that's March 14. It's a math joke - and everybody brings a pie. Your traditions don't have to be tied to the big holidays. Now, when the day of your new tradition arrives, be ready for the emotions that might come up. I mean, yeah, it might feel thrilling and fun and freeing. But also, if your new tradition is a replacement for a long-standing one...

ORA: It's common to have those bouts of loneliness, those bouts of doubt, regret or even these bouts of unworthiness as well.

SEGARRA: Like, who am I now without the old traditions? It's a kind of grief, so be kind to yourself. And Andrea Bonior says don't put too much pressure on this new event. It doesn't have to be this magical thing.

BONIOR: But we really need to observe ourselves. What have I internalized about how perfect this is supposed to be? Because I might have such rigid expectations that I'm making myself miserable.

SEGARRA: Remember, this is supposed to be fun. And if it's not, you're allowed to stop doing it. For NPR News, I'm Marielle Segarra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marielle Segarra
Marielle Segarra is a reporter and the host of NPR's Life Kit, the award-winning podcast and radio show that shares trustworthy, nonjudgmental tips that help listeners navigate their lives.