Experiment No. 11: Tradition Transition

Blog Post
Dec. 16, 2019

The Basics

We’re Trying to Solve: Holiday pressure, stress, and the mental load
Target Audience: Individuals, families
Ages: 12 and up
Category: Holidays and celebrations
Estimated Time: 3+ hours
Difficulty Level: Difficult, but fun and meaningful

Have you ever felt torn between a duty to continue a tradition you or your family once loved and a sense that for some reason, carrying that tradition on has gotten difficult or even impossible? Maybe it’s a particular ritual around lighting the menorah each night of Hanukkah, or an outing you used to make with the family every Christmas Eve. Maybe divorce has changed the family members who are around you this year, or the loss of a loved one has left a hole in the center of a once-beloved tradition. Maybe it’s just that your kids have gotten too old to find a particular tradition exciting anymore, and they want to spend their holiday time differently. Rather than clinging to the tradition of years past even when it causes more stress than joy, or abandoning it altogether, this experiment helps you hone in on the things you value most about the tradition, and encourages you to think of new, more achievable ways to reach those same goals and bring your whole family along with you.


  1. Think about and even jot down some notes about what it is you love most about the tradition that you’ve noticed is becoming harder to carry out. Traditions are powerful not because they are composed of specific actions that need to be carried out in a particular way, but because they conjure feelings or create experiences we value and even look forward to all year round. If the tradition you love is going out to the woods to find a Christmas tree as a family, for instance, ask yourself if what you love is really about the tree and the woods, or if it’s about something else--the quiet time with your family, protected from distractions and noise, the common project you share, or the time together in nature. Which of these is most important to you?
  2. Next, think through the specific changes that might have caused this tradition to fall out of the routine or become more difficult, and try not to take those changes too personally. Change comes with life, but what has changed? Is it harder to block out a whole day to make this trip together? Are the kids tired of spending so much time in the car and hoping to get a tree from a more local source this year? Think about the cost of pushing past these barriers to keep your tradition fully intact. Is it worth it? Or are there ways you could get the same effects you most value without all the resistance?
  3. Once you’ve got a sense of the things you most want to savor and the things you might consider adjusting, it’s time to figure out what alternatives can come next. Keep in mind that no tradition goes on the same way forever without evolving or being flexible for the people it involves and the circumstances they find themselves in. Even if a certain tradition is something your family has been doing for generations, there’s no possible way they’ve been carrying it out without modification or flexibility year after year, as technology evolves, people change, and resources ebb and flow. You too have the right to make your traditions your own. If it’s the chance to appreciate nature that you most valued about the Christmas tree tradition, maybe you can consider a shorter, more low-investment alternative the kids are excited to try, like a short hike. Or maybe, you can get that time with Mother Nature you so value on your own, or with only the family members who are equally passionate about it or at least support your passion. Plot out a new way to experiment with your tradition.
  4. Give it a try, and don’t worry if it isn’t perfect this year! Maybe your alternative has perfectly met the things you valued most about the tradition in the past, or maybe it fell short. The good news about traditions is they come back around and you always have a chance to try again with a modified approach. Stay flexible and remember to put the emotional weight not on the perfect execution of a routine, but on the feelings those actions evoke or signify.

Connect With the Better Life Lab

Are you going to try this week’s experiment? Do you have a story about how you and your own family solved a problem with the work at home? Is there a specific challenge you’ve been trying to tackle? Can this experiment be improved? Please let us know via this form, at bllx@newamerica.org, or in our Facebook group for BLLx Beta Testers.

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