When I moved away to attend university, I started sending Christmas cards back home on the first day of December every year. It was a great way to keep in touch and I loved opening the mailbox in the weeks leading up to the holidays to see the beautiful cards I got in return.
I would start writing the dozen or so cards in the last full week of November so that I could have them ready to mail when the calendar turned the page. My cousin told me one year that she always felt that Christmas season had started in earnest when she received my card in the mail.
Years later, the dozen cards grew to more than 50, and I started writing them earlier and earlier so that they could be mailed on December 1. Not content just to sign my name, I would take 10 minutes or more to write out something personal and meaningful to each person, and pretty soon I was starting the holiday tradition before the end of October, just to get them done in time.
This year, for the first time in, like, ever, I decided not to send any Christmas cards. There were too many other demands on my time, and December 1 rolled around before I could say “Trick or Treat.” It felt odd to let go of the tradition, and a bit sad to see my mailbox empty of any greetings in return.
Sometimes, we adopt a tradition because it holds special meaning for us, or because it keeps us close to something, but we don’t step back once in a while to see if the tradition still serves its purpose. My Christmas card habit was putting pressure on me at a time when I had other priorities, but letting go of the task filled me with angst. Then it hit me: it wasn’t the Christmas cards themselves that I loved, but the fact that it allowed me to stay in touch with family and friends in a personal and meaningful way. So why not re-define the tradition?
When you find yourself holding onto a routine that has outlived its purpose, ask yourself:
- What was the reason you took on this tradition in the first place? Whether it’s a habit you adopted yourself or whether you’ve taken on a family custom, there is a motive behind it.
- Does the tradition bring you joy? I love writing and so, for many years, writing the cards was a fun and relaxing activity, but recently had made me feel pressured. Traditions should connect us to our past but not bind us in obligation.
- Is there a different way of fulfilling the purpose? Why do I have to send cards at Christmas? Why not in the new year, or to celebrate Spring, or for no reason at all other than to say, “I’m thinking of you”? My purpose for sending cards was to stay in touch with my friends and family. I’m not limited to doing that just once a year.
In the meantime,
“Dear family and friends,
I didn’t send you a Christmas card this year but know that I am thinking of you…and you may get a card from me in the new year!