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Making New Traditions

Annual holidays have fallen into a fairly settled routine for my extended families. We haven’t really had any big adjustments since my wife and I and our siblings got married, moved out, and started having kids, so we’ve had about 15 years now of well-established schedule.

For example, at Christmas we go to my wife’s extended family gathering early in December, to avoid conflicting with anything else. On Christmas Eve, we have baked brie and charcuterie with my dad and step-mom here at our house. On Christmas morning we have my mother-in-law and her kids over to open presents and have Christmas brunch. On Boxing Day we visit my ex-step-father and his new wife (I know, complicated) to have a big Christmas meal with all my siblings and step-siblings and sort-of step-siblings). On New Year’s Day, my dad hosts an extended family meal with all of his siblings and their kids. Then, whenever she can come down from up north, sometimes as late as March Break, my mother will breeze into town and do something crazy and fun with my kids.

Easter is a little less intense, but we can almost always count on a Saturday brunch at my dad’s house, a Sunday brunch here with my mother-in-law’s crew, and a Sunday evening meal at my ex-step-father’s place. That’s how we’ve been doing things for more than a decade. We were pretty comfortable with that. We didn’t feel a need to change it.

This year, however, things changed whether we wanted them to or not. My father wasn’t around for the weekend, so he cancelled his brunch. None of my siblings-in-law or their kids were available to come over, so my mother-in-law cancelled her brunch at our place. My ex-step-father’s daughters by marriage have both moved into his house with small children, so he was in no position to host anything. And there it was – suddenly our normally busy Easter weekend was entirely unscheduled.

At first we were okay with this. Considering all the busyness of our lives, the idea of having a four-day weekend with nothing much to do seemed like perfection. We planned just to sleep in, do some fun things as a family, and take it as easy as we could. It only took until Friday night, however, as my wife and I were laying in bed, for her to say, sounding a little teary, “It just doesn’t feel like Easter.”

So, the next morning I headed to the grocery store, bought a ham and all the trimmings (along with the hundreds of other last minute shoppers), and got to work. I made a big lasagna for dinner that night and invited our friends from down the street to join us. My wife baked fresh dinner rolls to go with it.

As the lasagna was baking, I prepared the ham, the scalloped potatoes, the vegetables, and the custard pies for Sunday dinner, when we invited our neighbours next door to come and join us. My wife baked a beautiful sourdough bread to go with it.

After lasagna dinner, we gathered all the kids and helped them dye eggs with turmeric (yellow), beets (red), and purple cabbage (blue). The results were initially discouraging, but by breakfast time the next morning we had beautiful eggs to go with the bacon and toast and fruit. Then off to Easter service, and home to cook Easter dinner for our neighbours.

None of that was according to any tradition, of course, and most of it felt a bit scattered, but it was still a really great weekend. We still got to celebrate the holiday with people we love, cook for each other, spend time with each other, and do Easter-ish things with each other. The details were different, but the important bits were all there.

Which is a long-winded way to say that sometimes we need to be flexible with our family traditions. As important as those traditions are to keeping a sense of family identity and continuity, it’s just as important to adapt those traditions when necessary, in order to keep their essence alive even when their details are forced to change. And they will be forced to change. The grandma who hosted Christmas dinner for 50 years will eventually become too feeble to keep hosting it any longer. The cottage where everyone spent summer vacations might eventually need to be sold. Things change, and we’ll need to change too, but it’s good to know that we can make those changes in ways that keep the spirit of our traditions alive.

Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for 14 years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.