I’m Thankful For Flexible Traditions

This is Part 1 of a three-part “I’m Thankful For…” series in honor of Thanksgiving.

Turkey?  Stuffing?  Rolls and sides and cranberry sauce?   Friends and family all gathered around a table, offering up gratitude for the Thanksgiving holiday?

Never did it growing up.  Not once.

And I don’t regret it.

My dad’s a hunter.  And his annual hunting trip coincides, every year, with Thanksgiving.  So when I was a child and the holiday rolled around, Dad took a trip to the mountains while my mom and I spent the holiday together at home.  And we had a blast.

We used the week to decorate the house for Christmas.  We watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas (cartoon version!) and Veggietales movies and drank hot chocolate.  We took one of the grandmothers for dinner at a local steakhouse.  And the other grandmother shared in our taco feast, because that’s what we made on Thanksgiving Day: tacos with all the trimmings.  We slept in.  We listened to Christmas carols.

We made the holiday our own and we celebrated it our way.  And sure, we had the whole turkey-and-gravy affair the weekend that Dad came back from his trip, but that wasn’t “Thanksgiving” to me.  Our quirky little traditions were.

I’m married, now.  My husband comes from a family that did the turkey-and-trimmings Thanksgiving on the actual day.  So we meshed our traditions and combined them, which has resulted in a just-the-two-of-us holiday that includes one “traditional” meal for two (with the addition of green bean casserole, which neither of our families like but both of us do), one “fun meal day” (tacos!) as a tribute to my childhood, and a whole lot of carols, hot chocolate, and Christmas-decorating.    We love it.  It works for us.

And all of this is a reminder that in all things, “tradition” is flexible.

Our circumstances change.  Our environments change.  People are present, and then they’re not; or they weren’t, and then suddenly they are.  There are marriages and deaths and births and job changes and moves.  Culture changes.  Habits and preferences change.

Tish Harrison Warren, in Liturgy of the Ordinary, discusses attending communion at a remote church in Africa.  Grape juice or wine simply weren’t available to the congregants, and so because they desperately wished to share communion the congregation made do with what was: in this particular case, Coca-Cola, which was deemed precious and expensive enough to substitute in.  Traditional?  Not particularly.  Joyful?  Generous and hopeful?  Yes.

“Tradition” is not doctrine.  It is not set in stone.  It can change – from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving, sure, but also from church to church, from Christian to Christian.  We’ve been granted the freedom – and what a rich one it is – to imbue our spiritual walk with all the flavor of our own cultures, our own families, our own denominations, and our own preferences.  The way we worship or fellowship, where we do those things, the ways we serve: we have traditions, yes, but those traditions can be flexible.  Can evolve.  Can grow.

A lot of people find turkey-and-trimmings on Thanksgiving traditional – but that doesn’t have to be your tradition.  And when it comes to our faith, while we must agree on certain fundamental truths, we have the freedom to do things “the way they’ve always been done”…or to do them differently, too.  To try something new.  Or even to keep some of the old and add in something else.

I’m grateful that growing up with “taco Thanksgiving” taught me that there are a multitude of ways to celebrate togetherness and gratitude and love, and that I didn’t need turkey to do it – but also that some people prefer it that way, and that’s just fine, too.

As Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, I wish you the joy of your traditions: those old, those changed, and those yet to be born.




4 thoughts on “I’m Thankful For Flexible Traditions

  1. Yes! I am the same way and appreciate flexible traditions. I can get a little peeved at people who treat tradition as “doctrine” – it must be done the exact same way – the exact way their family does, with an assumption that every family does it just like them. Since my spouse and I are both nurses (although I no longer work) it is common to work holidays, so holidays have to be celebrated on a different day. Some people have a hard time grasping that! “You have to work Christmas?!?!?!” – Well, believe it or not, the hospitals don’t discharge all the patients home. haha. I’ve on occasion encountered judgment or shock that we don’t eat or do something a certain way for a holiday.

    Traditions can be good for kids, but since we also don’t have kids, I think the need to have set-in-stone traditions was never seen as a must for us. At one point in the past we had no local or near family, so even being with family on big holidays was not a tradition for us. Related to nursing, often it is impossible to travel to be with family – as you can only get limited time off around major holidays.

    We like flexibility, and go with the flow with holidays. One year we have a “traditional” Easter dinner, another year we go to the park for a picnic and eat sandwiches, etc. The later being horrifying to some! haha.

    I guess the only consistent traditions we have is attending special church services related to major holidays such as a candelight Christmas Eve service or a Good Friday service, etc.

    Interesting post, and I enjoyed rambling! Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. Yes! You make a good point – because of work, SO many people literally can’t participate in a “traditional” holiday anyway, and have to celebrate on different days or in different ways. And that’s fine! While traditions are great to pass down, I think having an attitude of “sure, take this tradition if you want it!” versus “WHY aren’t you doing it the traditional way?!” is always preferable.

    We have the “tradition” of attending Christmas services as well – and would attend a Thanksgiving one, if there were such a thing locally!

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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