You got trouble at home? Kids not interested in family stuff? Spouse or friends not around much? Family is one of the hardest parts of life and with all the competition against bonding and parental influence, it’s a wonder families ever work.
Family traditions, especially during holidays, offer great antidotes to relationship conflicts. They don’t always heal what’s wrong between you and your loved ones, but distance and silence are time bombs. Start great rituals in a family’s infancy, grab ‘em by the heart and pull ‘em in. But, I say, it’s never too late. Children will take those memories, later on, into their own families and your efforts become generational.
This truth was driven home to our family, some years ago, during a dark period for my son and his children. But, I’m ahead of myself. First, the Christmas tree, a standard tradition for most of us, taken for granted. We might forget its emotional value. It stands for far more than something to hold decorations. It can be symbolic of the family heart.
One story I often share stands out concerning the tree. Among my collection of Christmas decorations, tucked in one corner of a special white box, is a scruffy tree about 12 inches tall, covered with tightly curled red and green ribbon. It sits on a crude block of wood, which gives it enough weight to stand alone. Anyone else would consider it past its usefulness and toss it out, but each year, I hold it carefully, adjust the ribbon and find the best spot for it in the house. Tears involuntarily accompany this private ritual.
The prized tree was a gift from three of my grandchildren, when their lives were in chaos. Their parent’s divorce was still fresh and stability was a comfort of their past. Every day was a hurtful time, especially holidays and birthdays. That Christmas, their father chose not to set up a tree. “You have one at your mother’s house,” he told them. “Let’s just let it go this year.”
The children, all under age 10, pleaded. They cried as they called family members and begged us to make their dad change his mind. “He needs a tree,” they insisted. I was surprised that it wasn’t about them. They were concerned for him, alone, when they were at their mom’s. But he couldn’t be persuaded. Celebrations, of any form, weren’t a fit. “They’ll get over it,” he said.
Christmas morning every family member found the same gift from those three, determined youngsters. We all received a 12-inch tree from the dollar store – where, at the last minute, their dad had taken them shopping.
Warning: Traditions can be stressful, especially when life is extra painful. On the other hand, they are relationship keystones. Some years it would be easy to take a sabbatical from holidays because of time consuming responsibilities and someone’s always mad at someone else. Aunt Millie isn’t coming to Uncle Joe’s because he made fun of her dog, or other unforgiving excuses, which put a kink in what should be the sacred process of consecrating relationships.
It’s something to remember: Traditions, which bind hearts, are real gifts we give each other, but they don’t happen by accident. They require vision, patience and tolerance. They’re oh-so-worth it. Just ask our family, which will always, always put up a tree no matter whose life is in the tank.
• Linda Turley-Hansen is an Arizona syndicated columnist and former Phoenix TV anchor/reporter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.