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Holiday Gifts for the Future

By Janet Benavente, Colorado State University Extension Agent

Time and location of holiday meals; the menu; patterns of gift giving; and who is invited are all parts of the holiday traditions that provide order and comfort when life seems unpredictable. Traditions are a link with the past and a gift for the future. The reassurance and consolation that traditions bring are at the center of the holidays.

Some traditions come from the cultural or ethnic background of family members. Other traditions are directly related to family spiritual preferences. However, there are some traditions that just are, no one knows how they started. One thing that seems to be true around the world is the central role that food plays in holiday tradition. The aromas and flavor combinations of special holiday foods trigger memories of holidays past.

Each personality type views tradition in a different way. For some people sameness is essential right down to the details, such as, who sits in what chair at the table. Yet, for others change is welcomed and often sought. This group might travel to exotic locations to celebrate holidays or might have a different menu each year. These differences of expectation are multiplied when differing regional, family, ethnic, and spiritual traditions are combined in families.

Children grow up, leave their family of origin, and begin to create new family units. Today's families are more complex and geographically separated than in past generations. Many young families today seem to be searching for ways to keep the reassurance and consolation that come with tradition, while minimizing the conflict and stress stemming from differing personalities, spiritual choices, or cultural and regional origins. Older family members often want to continue traditions but may lack the needed energy and financial resources. Communication and compromise are the keys to preserving and creating family traditions.

Multigenerational sharing of the "whys" and "hows" of traditions can create wonderful memories and assure that traditions will continue from one generation to the next. When parents and grandparents involve younger family members in preparing traditional holiday foods, decorating for the holidays, and participating in the spiritual aspect of the holiday traditions are more likely to be carried on. If grandparents are hosting the holiday celebration, they can save some of the preparation until the younger generations arrive. This provides an opportunity to teach younger family members how to prepare favorite foods and lets younger, stronger people get involved in holiday decorating. While working together, the generations can talk about the history and background of the tradition.

When younger generations are hosting the holiday celebration, older family members can add to the enjoyment of the holiday by being willing to try new things. Sometimes a new activity, recipe, or decorating idea is not perfect the first time it is tried. Humor and a non-judgmental attitude will encourage young family members to keep on trying until the new idea is refine when it may become a new family tradition. Family food favorites can be modified to be more healthful; gift giving can be refocused to include community service and gifts to charity.

New and old traditions will provide comfort and consolation no matter what the make up of the group who is celebrating together. Families of today often include a mixture of close friends, "step" relatives, and biological kin. Celebrations are most enjoyable when grounded in the philosophy that holidays are times to celebrate what is good about life. In contrast, the enjoyment is dampened when traditional activities become chores. When that happens, it is time to evaluate whether you just need help getting things done or whether it is time to change the tradition. For example, if sending holiday greeting cards has become a chore because of changes in vision or joint pain, ask younger family members to help create mailing labels or hand address your envelopes. Focusing on people instead of chores and choosing only activities that you enjoy will create a happier holiday season.

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