By Mary Reitano

Close your eyes and remember wonderful fragrances from the holidays—is it grandma’s apple pie at Thanksgiving, roast beef for Christmas dinner, the smell of a fresh cut spruce tree, or potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream for Hanukkah? Walk further down memory lane and picture a favorite holiday scene—is it your family cutting down your Christmas tree in the mountains, your dad lighting the menorah at Hanukkah, midnight mass with your grandchildren on Christmas Eve, watching football with friends and family on New Year’s Day, or driving to see holiday lights with the whole family crammed into the car?

Holiday traditions can draw a family or community closer together. Many customs have been enjoyed for decades and are connected to many shared memories. Abigail Brenner, MD wrote that “traditions establish and strengthen family bonds by providing a solid structure, a sense of continuity, and a feeling of belonging….” Dr. Marie Harwell-Walker, Ed.D. stresses that “holidays are not an ‘extra.’ They are essential markers in the rhythm of life.”

Families change, and sometimes traditions change with them. When a child marries, the family expands, and the spouse brings new holiday traditions. One way to welcome them is to incorporate some of these customs. It is difficult for young couples with small children to travel at Christmas. Young parents may prefer waking up at home to see the kids open gifts under the tree. Families may need flexibility to celebrate before or after holidays to facilitate seeing each side of the family. Senior members of the family may relinquish hosting duties to younger family members. Changes brought on by the passing of a loved one are a challenge. Some families add a special ornament to the tree or incorporate a toast in memory of that family member.

Anticipating and talking about these changes can preserve harmony in the family. Surprising family members who may have been eagerly anticipating a favorite dish or tradition can be risky. As Hartwell-Walker wrote, you may be greeted with a chorus of “always!” “But we always have mixed nuts at Thanksgiving!” “But we always have turkey for Christmas dinner!” “But we always have the youngest child open the first Hanukkah present (this protested by the youngest)!” “But we always go to grandma’s for New Year’s Day!”

Seek to be open to changes rather than digging in your heels and thinking “but we’ve always done it this way!” Remember that every holiday tradition was at some time done for the very first time! And who knows, the new “tradition” might become a family favorite. After decades of having oven-roasted turkey at Thanksgiving, one family started a new tradition of brined, smoked turkey. Surprisingly, everyone loved it and said it was the moistest, most flavorful turkey they had ever eaten!

Mary Reitano is a licensed Professional Counselor Associate practicing in Lake Lure, NC. Her focus is positive psychology with a holistic approach addressing emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health. She can be reach at 704-858-2926 or