Guest post by By Tierra Henry, Graduate Student,
University of Baltimore Dispute Resolution Program
Breaking away from family traditions during the holiday season can be difficult. Regardless of the reason or the explanation given to your family, friends or spouse, it rarely goes well. Why is that? The fact is that traditions are traditions for a reason. Traditions hold a symbolic or significant meaning to your family, friends and yourself. Your absence from a tradition is more than just, “Hey, sorry we won’t be there this Christmas ”. Your absence from a tradition means the loss of chances to hear family stories or to connect with distant family members who you probably will not see until next year. Tradition is a sensitive topic especially when it involves holidays or large family gatherings, and it can create unpleasant feelings and conflict.
There could be many reasons why you decide to break from a family tradition. Here are a few that I came up with…
The growth of personal relationships (marriage). You and your new spouse want to start a tradition within your own home to celebrate the holidays. This can make your family or your spouse’s family upset.
The ignorance to diversity and difference within your family. For example, the fear to introduce a new spouse, college friend or co-worker from a different religious, racial, or economic background. These situations can create tension for all parties involved. See clip Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
The strained relationship with in-laws. The constant offenses or verbal attacks from each other during traditional holiday meals can discourage your attendance at those dinners.
Personal lifestyle choices. For example, you are now the raw vegan or vegetarian who no longer indulges in meat and/or dairy products. Yet your family still makes those traditional holiday favorites ham, deviled eggs and mashed potatoes, which you cannot eat.
Simple boredom. I will not sugar coat. I know family traditions can become stale and boring; so, you stay home or seek another place to go instead of attending the traditional holiday festivities your father or mother have hosted over the years.
Whatever the reasons are, do not brush them off. Don’t wonder if you are the bad guy because you want to break with tradition. Remember your reasons are just as important as the tradition itself! If you want to start your own family tradition say that, but say it respectfully, explain why and say it early. Don’t wait until the day of Christmas dinner to decide you want to break tradition. If the religion or the race of your significant other worries you, speak to your family ahead of time, don’t bring your significant other into the chaos. If in-laws are purposeful grouches, tell your spouse and speak to the in-laws privately before the family affair. If you are the vegan or vegetarian at the traditional meat-loving family dinner, bring a dish for the family to try. If a particular family tradition is boring, talk with mom or dad to change it up a bit. Just remember to be respectful, show that you still care and speak up early.