Transforming time-worn traditions

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Traditions. They maintain continuity between generations past, present and future. They help us recognize our identity, connect us to our roots, and maintain a sense of stability. In corporate spaces, traditions are often referred to as culture.

Our family, like many, has traditions that provide structure and foundation. Several occur around the year-end holidays: bringing cheer to people, visiting the sick, delivering food to elderly family members, baking cookies together, attending Christmas mass, having sleepovers that involve boisterous games and karaoke-filled evenings, and …. giving gifts.

Like others, we’ve tried to creatively re-imagine gift-giving, to reduce the number and cost of Christmas presents shared. When our children were small, there was great delight in shopping, wrapping and stowing gifts carefully under the tree. Obviously, most were purchased by adults, and a surprise to the recipients, including those from the proverbial Santa.

As the children got older, they began gifting with great gusto. Gleefully they shopped, wrapped and laid their spoils under the tree. The tradition of surprise gifts continued.

Once they became adults, we reckoned there was no need to buy multiple gifts for each person, since everyone could buy what they needed. We agreed that individuals would make a “wish list”, and each person would choose an item and buy it for them. Still maintaining an element of surprise, because they wouldn’t know who bought which item. Slightly more efficient, however, the total spend went up instead of down, with each person still receiving multiple gifts!

Lately, we’ve adopted “Secret Santa”, with each family member picking a single name and giving just one gift – to the person they picked. This was meant to reduce the shopping, spending and number of gifts per person. Generally, the element of surprise remained.

To our amusement, this has not significantly reduced the number of gifts. Our children continue to buy or make gifts for each person, simply because they don’t want to let go of the tradition of making people happy with a gift on Christmas Day. What it has done, however, is made the non-Secret Santa gifts more meaningful, and much less expensive. All the while maintaining the surprise factor.

We’ve redesigned this tradition – while we set some boundaries, people can stretch those and do what they feel is meaningful and preserves the tradition: gift-giving that brings an element of surprise and puts smiles on faces.

And that’s what this is about. Traditions should be honoured and handed down. But even traditions can be creatively shaped to suit the moment.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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