Traditions are the foundations of the holidays. They cultivate bonds between families and friends. They make great memories. And, even if they’re ridiculous, they make for great stories (and hilarious pictures, no doubt).
Traditions are as unique as the families they originate from. For instance, every New Year’s Eve, my family cuts loose to old school Russian music, eats lots of European cuisine and exchanges presents at midnight. When my father was alive, every Hanukkah, we’d blast the Barry sisters, use the living room as a dance floor, and only take breaks for bites of potato latkes.
With the holidays in full swing, we wanted to know how therapists celebrate the season. Below, in this month’s Therapists Spill piece — a regular series that gives readers a glimpse into practitioners’ personal and professional lives — clinicians reveal their favorite rituals below.
For Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and postpartum mental health expert, the most special tradition is sharing a generous gift with a stranger every Christmas Eve.
Hands down, my favorite holiday tradition is one I started just a few years ago with my husband and children. It’s based on a popular book called The Christmas Jar, by Jason Wright. Each year, a couple of months before Christmas, we set out our “Christmas Jar.” Each time we see it we can choose to leave a little change or a few dollars in the jar. The kids will leave some of their allowance, and even guests will contribute to the jar!
Then, on Christmas Eve, we empty the contents of the jar into a gift bag, with a note that says, “Merry Christmas! From, Your Friends” and we all pile in the car (which the past few years has required two cars because my parents and siblings want in on the action too!).
We start driving around town, watching the streets carefully, looking for someone in need. Sometimes it can take a while to find the right person, which we usually suddenly “know” — like a gut reaction or prompting that “this is the one.”
The kids then hop out of the car and try not to startle the stranger as they give him/her the gift bag and say, “Merry Christmas!” before running back to the car.
Almost always the stranger will start moving quickly away from us, to a safe location, as we try to follow at a distance so they can have their privacy but we can watch as they open the bag. The look on our new friend’s face is always one of shock, looking around, and finally a smile.
Sometimes they head to a store or restaurant to purchase food. Sometimes they head away from us and we let them go. It is truly the best moment of the entire holiday for each and every one of us!
I have friends from many different cultures. We have a standing date every year at my house to decorate my holiday Christmas Tree. What I love most is that we get together and celebrate these unique traditions with our families.
It’s a great time to share stories, learn about the different faiths and cultures and bond over good food and wonderful music.
Nothing makes me happier than to see my Christmas tree adorned with ornaments not only in Christian holiday fare, but also handmade Jewish stars, Kwanzaa candles, Indian Mango leaves and Nordic gingerbread ornaments that friends bring.
For Joyce Marter, LCPC, a psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, decorating the home is a favorite tradition — and a family affair.
My favorite holiday tradition is to festively decorate my home, which I’ve always cherished doing during the Christmas season. When my husband and I became parents, I began decorating for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and even the 4th of July.
The process of decorating is a mindfulness practice of sorts — it causes me to become more aware of the present moment, the state of our house, and to clear out any clutter to make space for joy.
I love this tradition because it expands each holiday from a single day to a whole month of celebration. I share in my children’s excitement as they help unpack their favorite holiday items from boxes that have been in the attic since the year prior.
This process prompts me to reflect on the change of seasons and become more conscious of the passage of time, which encourages me to focus on the things that matter most in life.
Finally, the decorations create a cozy and festive ambiance for family and friends to enjoy when we enjoy togetherness at our home, which is the primary intention of the holidays.
Jeffrey Sumber, MA, a psychotherapist, author and teacher, loves spending New Year’s Eve in self-reflection – and with close friends.
I never understood the tradition for NYE that required inebriation. Getting unabashedly drunk on the first of the year feels sad to me. I prefer NYE to be a taking stock day. It is the house on the corner that allows one to see the street I just came from as I look down the street I am turning into.
How was the past year? What worked and what did not work so well? What do I want to create in the year to come? What are my intentions for my internal process as well as my external work in the world?
I love joining with a small group of friends after or during this introspective process and by all means, have a nice glass of something, just share the bottle…
For John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens, the most meaningful ritual is traveling with family and creating memories on the road.
Typically, my wife, son and I are on the road during the holidays, traveling between our home in Chicago and my in-laws house in central Iowa. The landscape throughout is stark, and the weather is often disagreeable. Yet those six hours in the car happen to define the joy of the holidays for me. Any given year, we are likely laughing, singing, talking, and telling stories. Oddly enough, that’s a happy Christmas to me, and the memories remain indelible.
For Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, Calif., discovery is a beloved tradition.
I have young kids, so our traditions are still in process. You could say trying on new rituals is our tradition. What are our favorite Thanksgiving dishes? We discover that a little each year.
We celebrate Christmas, but how? A tree and presents are a given, but when do we open presents and what meals will we serve? We want our traditions to have meaning, and we believe that discovering this meaning is as important as the tradition itself.
We’ll probably have a clearer idea of our traditions in a few years, but I also hope some of them are still being discovered. That’s part of the fun.
For many of us our favorite customs make the holidays. Big or small, these rituals often remind us of what’s important — whether it’s laughs with a loved one or a generous gift to a stranger.
What are your favorite holiday traditions?
Decorating the tree photo available from Shutterstock