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Time for New Holiday Traditions?


Published in ChicagoNow, December 2, 2013 (Cartoon by Marcia Liss)


She is closing in on her 75th birthday and still hosting holiday dinner for her middle-aged children, teenaged grandchildren, and assorted other family members. OMG – that can’t be my future … or maybe it is. I know her children would happily chant, “75 is the new 45.” Believe me, it’s not!


When my mother-in-law was widowed at 57 and moved into an apartment a year later, she declared she was done with hosting holiday gatherings. She would make soup or bake something, but that was it. We, her children, stepped up and took over these events when we were in our thirties. My assignment was the huge family Thanksgiving gathering from 1977, when we moved into our house, until sometime in the early 21st century when it had grown to 40 people seated at three tables. I needed to have back surgery to allow myself to stop this tradition. I recently hosted Thanksgiving for my “kids” and grandkids who are close by, plus a few extra family members, but that was a reasonable 20 people (half of whom are ten and under).


I have but one all-family event left on my agenda – a “Hannu-mas” pitch-in celebration for my husband’s side of the family sometime in December. This year there will be 40 people crammed into my living room watching the youngest grandkids open presents, and the same three tables stuffed into my house. While everyone helps with the food, clean up, and putting chairs and tables away, I know it will leave me totally exhausted.


So when, my friends and I ask, will the next generation take over? When can I pass this lovely “Hannu-mas” tradition on to someone other than my youngest sister-in-law? Probably never.


Family life has changed since my generation took on this responsibility as young adults. Only one of my kids resides in my state, and it is challenging enough to get my own nuclear family together once a year. My daughter, nieces, and nephews who live in town have smaller homes and larger work demands. They are also less prone to feeling guilty about not hosting extended family gatherings that include cousins by the dozens. That’s my generation’s tradition, not theirs.


At some point, my children, nieces, and nephews will host their own siblings, their children, and their siblings’ children. When that happens, I will become the senior generation. And perhaps that is the main reason why my friends and I hang on to hosting these holiday events. We grumble that we carry on with these large holiday gatherings because no one else will do it. The truth is, as long as we do it, we are not the old folks at the table. We do it because to let go means to accept we are truly seniors.


So when our aching backs and forgetful minds make our old holiday gatherings too challenging for us to continue, they will most likely end. Because we fear this change, we soldier on, sad that the end of our tradition is in sight. Maybe we need to come up with new traditions to keep extended family ties going. Or maybe we just have to learn to let go gracefully.



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by Laurie Levy
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