Are Holiday Traditions Boring? Yes, but we should do them anyway.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family, my mother was basically raised by Sister Mary Joseph and Sister Mary Helen, her school teachers in Canada, so mom’s fashion choices ran in the direction of functional and utilitarian. She was absolutely no help when I entered my teenage years and was desperately in need of guidance about eye liner and ways to style thick curly hair. In the midst of that sensitive developmental age, during the early 1980’s, Seventeen magazine became my bible. 

At that time, Whitney Houston and Phoebe Cates were the stars of the magazine. Tall and impossibly beautiful, I idolized them and memorized every article. I tried to replicate their haircuts and buy their dresses. I stacked each issue neatly in my closet for years, until they were finally recycled two decades later. (They sell for $25-$100 on eBay right now.)

In one memorable article, Phoebe Cates said that she were planning on eating Chinese food on Christmas afternoon in a glamorous New York City apartment that she shared with her sister. The article came with an adorable picture of herself with chop sticks and a paper container. I wanted to be Phoebe Cates so badly and have her alternative Chinese food Christmas, instead of our Italian-American holiday with fish and little honey balls. I’m sure that Phoebe wasn’t surrounded by old people with hands that smelled like garlic and anchovies. 

Fast forward thirty years, and I’m charge of maintaining these family traditions. I never had that glamorous Christmas Day with lip gloss, a pink robe, and a carton of Lo Mein. Instead, I’m hosting three generations in our suburban split level and making the same fish and honey balls as my mom, her mom, and centuries of Italian grannies. I’ve slowly accepted that traditions might be boring, but we need them more than ever.

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11 thoughts on “Are Holiday Traditions Boring? Yes, but we should do them anyway.

  1. Jewish Christmas is our thing (though it included the winter break trip over Christmas until the pandemic). In the 1980s, when Cates was having take out Chinese in a hotel room, that was apparently a 10% minority in the US. In 2020, 36% identify as non Christian (though I think some of those do Christmas, either because it is a family tradition, or because they think its fun).

    I, for example, am theoretically tempted by the 7/12 fishes every time you post them and then I look up recipes. I think I’d be intrigued by a 12 fishes feast I could have catered in (and, expect, some day, that I will be able to), Now, that’s dim sum instead (and probably possible to get 12 “fishes” via that order (just went to play and its totally possible and even more variety with 12 fishes & veg).


  2. Our flight to Cleveland today was cancelled and we are hoping the one tomorrow we are rebooked on will actually happen. My sister and were going to make the turkey and stuffing our mom made, along with cookies and sides and pie. If we don’t make it there this year we’ll have to go to our cousin’s next year as it’s her turn and she won’t give it up even though she’s not as interested in cooking. Fingers crossed.
    Meanwhile today we basically hibernated because we had a high of 0° F. The poor dog was miserable every time we took him out.


  3. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. It’s really cold but at least I’m not in Ohio or under threat having to go there.


  4. I agree about holiday traditions and also about Seventeen magazine, which I loved. It was a sensible sort of magazine, with beauty stuff but not at a crazy, this is all that’s important way. Enjoy your fish feast!


  5. We hosted two family parties, back to back. That’s all for now, folks, we’re looking to have a quiet New Year’s Eve.

    Our extended family has had a number of deaths in 2022. Hosting parties for the family is a lot of work. As hosts, we’re continually advising on parking, getting people drinks, refilling chips, making sure there are enough chairs, so we don’t have the same “party experience” we had when we were younger. On the other hand, we’re grateful we hosted the parties we did, before our relatives passed away. At least we don’t regret the effort.


  6. In-laws left this morning. Jonah’s girlfriend is still here. I can’t decide if I want to get really drunk or lock myself in the bathroom with my headphones on. That’s where I’m at. We are not doing anything for New Year’s Eve.


  7. I think you should nest in your bedroom, not bathroom, with nice music and get at least 3 of those New Yorker books, tea (and some wine?), and fruit and let everyone fend for themselves and read in bed with a glass or mug of your preferred beverage. They can bring you trays for a couple of days. If spouse also needs to hibernate, he can join you with his own books and beverage.


    1. IDK. A 2 hour bath – regularly topped up with hot water, and accompanied by said reading material and treats of choice – is a pretty attractive option.
      You can be pretty sure no one is going to burst in on you, with ‘I just need you to tell me….’


    2. Yes, baths are big in our family, and, potentially, in the long run, one of the reasons the kids come home (since its not for my home cooked food).

      But, maybe for Laura its a run? I do know moms for whom that is their alone space.


  8. I don’t find Christmas traditions boring – even though, I’ve accepted, that as the Mum to the next generation (all one of him), and eldest daughter – the weight of maintaining the Christmas traditions is all on my shoulders. It’s almost always the women who actually *do* all of this tradition stuff.

    By the end of Christmas Day I’m exhausted – not only with all of the Christmas stuff needing to be prepped during December (and earlier, for Christmas cakes and teacher gifts) – but just doing my job at the same time – and kid-wrangling the grumpy teen (he’s really no more grumpy than the next kid – but my tolerance levels are low) – because he really *loves* Christmas – and would be massively disappointed if we missed out on some of the things he treasures.

    I cook dinner at my Mum’s house (she doesn’t cook, but has much more room) – so have to remember to transfer all of the ingredients I need to glaze the ham, and season the veggies, etc. The trifle is made the day before (Mr 15 actually did it to my recipe this year) – so the actual cooking on the Day is relatively low key. 9 people to Christmas lunch (family and friends).

    Mr 15 was part of the children’s nativity play again this year – he’s been doing it since he was 5 – and has played every role (except Mary). This year there were very few children (Covid and holidays away I think), so he was a co-narrator, adding a bit of humour, and doing quick changes of headgear to supplement various roles. It may be the last time – he’s hitting 6 foot – and towers over the other kids – but he’ll answer the call if the director needs him 🙂

    Boxing Day, I worked hard on my goal of doing absolutely nothing. No sales. No cooking (tons of leftovers). No housework. Several books, lots of fruit, and the odd sneaky chocolate. The teen was working (getting time and a half – so was pretty stoked) – so the house was peaceful and silent. The only challenge is that one of our cats has decided that a heatwave (Christmas is summer for us) is the perfect time to demonstrated her love by sitting on me at every opportunity.

    I’m having a fortnight off work (we get 4 days statutory holiday (Xmas & Boxing Day, New Years and the 2nd of January), so just need to take 6 days leave to get 14 days off work. Have declared that I’m not cooking (have bought fancy ready meals from an upmarket supermarket – and we’ll eat out a couple of times). We’re not going away (air travel is insanely expensive, as is accommodation – and the roads are hideous – as everyone battles to get away for the first ‘proper’ holiday since Covid started 3 years ago); but will plan some staycation days out.

    Hoping to start the New Year refreshed and a lot calmer and more at peace with myself and the rest of the world.


  9. “he really *loves* Christmas – and would be massively disappointed if we missed out on some of the things he treasures.”

    “It may be the last time – he’s hitting 6 foot – and towers over the other kids – but he’ll answer the call if the director needs him”

    That love makes a lot of difference in the labor.

    Our eldest is questioning one of our strongest traditions, and it is distressing (though it’ll keep happening anyway).

    I am not the keeper of any tradition that requires significant labor. Our Thanksgiving is a significant celebration and tradition. In the past we have made significant contributions (hosting in our home, acquiring food, . . . .). More recently, the “patriarchs” have been able to arrange the gathering place (so we’re not hosting) and others have been helping planning meals. Spouse (whose family it is) usually takes on the task of reheating the food we buy from the Whole Foods, but this year he was busy, and I assigned the adult kids the task (which they did well). Elder has a Brussel sprouts with bacon dish that is her contribution (and is a highlight), that she actually makes.

    But, I am mostly not particular, except about the few things that matter to me. The family portrait, which I started taking, and which has now become my responsibility is very important to me, but the most important thing is that it gets taken.


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