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Time to Triage the Traditions?

Advent is supposed to be the season of expectation, Christmas the joyful fulfillment of that expectation, but too often it's Christmas that becomes dominated by expectations. Everything has to be perfect; everything has to be just the way it’s always been. The pressure of family and social traditions at Christmas time—both secular and religious—can become overwhelming. If we’re reaching Christmas Day frazzled, stressed out of our mind, and desperate for it all to be over, then it’s probably time we stepped back and triaged our traditions.


Traditions are only worth retaining in our Christmas if they help us to focus on the Christ Child, to celebrate His coming, to spend time with our families, and to actually enjoy the holiday. If a tradition distracts us or takes us away from all that, then it’s probably time to let it go.


This is easier said than done when Christmas is a family affair, especially if it’s a large family. Each tradition is probably someone’s favorite and no one wants to feel like they’re ruining Christmas for anyone. But the fact about traditions is that they accumulate. Every time we do something new at Christmas that we all enjoy, we want to do it again—before we know it, yet another tradition has been added to the yearly check list. If we never triage that list, it will grow and grow until the true meaning of Christmas is submerged under a frantic frenzy of box-ticking activity.


Maybe a family could get together in the run-up to Christmas and discuss their Christmas traditions and how each one actually relates to the birth of Christ. Then they could each write down a few favorite traditions and put them into a jar. In a small family, everyone’s favorite could go on the list. In a larger family, any tradition that got a certain number of votes could stay. This would encourage everyone in the family to get involved and take responsibility for how much is to be fitted in and why.


The other danger about an expectation-heavy Christmas is how easily we feel disappointed if something doesn’t go to plan. We enjoy reading about characters whose Christmas plans go sideways, we enjoy watching them grow as they overcome their problems—but we tend to get whiney when it happens to us.


At Christmas we tend to be particularly fixated on our own will, doing things our way, the right way, the way they’ve always been done, so it’s actually an especially powerful time for the Lord to give us a little wake-up call, to throw a spanner in our elaborate works and remind us that His plan is always better than ours. How much we could grow in grace and trust if we could accept an alteration to our precious Christmas plans with a willing heart! How hard many of us would find it!


Other than prayer, reading the Christmas struggles of our favorite characters is one of the best ways we can try and prepare our hearts and wills for such a challenge! Catholic Teen Books has a number of books featuring difficult Christmases.


  • In the short story "The Christmas Lights," a family’s Christmas takes a very dangerous turn after a road traffic accident in heavy snow.

  • In A Very Jurassic Christmas, one family must give up their Christmas plans entirely to save a mother allosaur and her out-of season chicks, while another family can’t even start their carol service on time because their priest is missing in the raptor-infested mountains.

  • In the short story "Liam and the Hunters of Lee'Vi" a young boy finds the fate of his entire family resting in his hands after an accident in dangerous country.

  • The anthology Gifts: Visible & Invisible contains no fewer than eight short stories, presenting the reader with an abundance of Christmas dilemmas and challenges!

  • And look out for "A Fowl Christmas" (coming soon), a short story about two teen boys desperately trying to ensure their family’s Christmas feast goes ahead, but facing obstacles at every turn.

  • In Fire Starters, Caitlyn leaves her friends and traditions behind when her family decides to spend Christmas with the grandparents; then tragedy overshadows everything, making her look at things anew.

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Great post! Yes, our traditions should be at the service of our celebration of Christ's birth - not just more to-dos that overwhelm us.

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