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Is It Time to Change Your Holiday Traditions?

Here's how to say "out with the old and in with the new"—to your entire family.

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Is It Time to Change Your Holiday Traditions?

There is a certain comfort in holiday traditions. The smells of a Thanksgiving meal being cooked as kids throw a football in the crisp afternoon air. Exchanging gifts. Counting down to New Years. Annual gatherings are a great way to mark the passage of time and to reconnect with family and friends.

But the holidays also have a lot of stress involved with them. Packing up to travel to see family on the busiest travel weeks of the year is a drag. Your family members are just one of many groups you may want to see as the holidays approach. Also, as you grow and change, there may be things you would like to change about the holidays that fit with your own values.

So, how do you go about telling your family and friends that you would like to change some of the age-old traditions that are part of your family history? Can you insert new activities into the holiday mix? Here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Add more than you subtract. Traditions are a part of the holiday experience, because they connect you to your past. Those connections help you feel a closeness to the family and friends that are a part of your life. When you create a new tradition, try to add it to the set of holiday activities rather than replacing a beloved activity with something new. Over time, if your new activity catches on, it may come to replace some of those other actions, but you don’t have to force it.

MORE: The Power of Family Traditions

Communicate in advance. As the holiday fever ramps up, people get more invested in doing things the way they have always been done.  If you want to make a change to holiday traditions, discuss it in advance—several months ahead of time, if you can. When you are far removed in time from the holidays, it may be easier for people to talk calmly about ways to celebrate the holidays in a new way. 

Let people know your needs. Sometimes, you want to change a holiday tradition because your lifestyle or values differ from those of other members of your family. My own family has a mix of vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. That has meant making changes to the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Letting people know what you need to be happy and comfortable during the holidays is an important part of instituting changes.

Don’t draw lines in the sand. Traditions get their status because they have been around for a long time—even if nobody can remember why they started in the first place. Because of their longevity, many people in your holiday group may get attached to them. So, you have to be sensitive that any change you make to those traditions could mean a loss to other family and friends. When the holidays approach, find a way to accommodate as many people as possible rather than deciding it’s my way or the highway.

It’s really about the people. Finally, remember that the most important part of gathering together with others around the holiday is to create closeness with family and friends and to develop a set of shared memories. Good times during the holidays can be a source of comfort in difficult times. Stress during the holidays can put a real barrier between you and others. No matter how your attempts to change holiday traditions go, try to stay focused on enjoying the people around you.

MORE: How to Stand Up for Yourself

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