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By Michael Strelcheck

It’s holiday time once again! That realization got me to thinking about the ever-shifting expressions of the season. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the “traditional holiday season” is getting longer (Halloween now being included) as well as strange new holiday celebrations magically appearing, like “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” These changes seem a little unsettling at times.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about what’s the proper way to define our nation’s year-end celebrations. For many the term “Merry Christmas” was the hallmark greeting that set the tone for this time’s many different events. But, as our national culture has been growing, that traditional theme has been expanding into a broader expression, one that’s more inclusive, as expressed by the greeting “Happy Holidays.” ¬†Surprisingly, the growing popularity of this more general or neutral greeting has stimulated some backlash in our culture.

Cultural traditions, such as holidays, are foundational to human society. All through humanity’s long (and colorful) history cultures and their societies have developed meaningful ritualistic celebrations that have anchored their collective values. Many older traditions find their roots in ancient times, strongly tied to a system of worship that helped them feel connected to something Greater. I remember the first time I saw the play Fiddler on the Roof. Being but a youth, the setting of the story was unfamiliar to me, focusing on the difficulties the Jewish communities experienced when they were being forcibly relocated by the Russian government in Mid 1800s? One famous line from the play stuck in my mind. As the father of one family lamented over the changes happening in his culture, he cried out, “Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!” At the time I didn’t get it. For years that comment lingered in the back of my head, wondering what the play’s iconic image of a guy playing a fiddle on roof had to do with anything?

As a kid I didn’t grasp how important traditional values and their celebrations are to the stability of a community. In my own life Christmas was the most important holiday of the year, and the good-will it inspired in my family and my community was indeed magical! Over the years that time became “foundational” in my life. I can see now (looking back through older eyes) that if that holiday was taken away from my family and me, it would have shaken the very core of our social and moral values. With that being said, traditions can not always stay the same. Life has its subtle way of creating change, and with those changes cultures and their values need to adapt. That can be a difficult thing.

The positive side of change is that it offers a culture, a community and an individual the opportunity to develop new traditions which better reflect the times they live in. What makes a really good traditional celebration or holiday is one that expresses the core values of a successful culture. Those being:

Gratitude – holiday celebration allows individuals to express thankfulness for those valuable things in their life.

Connection – holiday celebration brings individuals together, and this interaction is what makes a group of people – a community. There’s nothing better than a party where individuals gather to share themselves and their happy feelings.

Renewal – Holiday celebrations provide a community or culture the energy to reenergize itself. Take the “4th of July” holiday for example. It’s a loud and “explosive” celebration of our appreciation for our culture’s freedom, brings people together to share their feelings (like when everyone cheers while watching fireworks), and inspires us to look forward towards greater things coming.

Just like a culture or society, an individual can create their own special traditions within their community life as well, and in doing so express their personal “style” of celebrating. By doing this a person can supersize their holidays and reinforce their sense of values. That’s the essence behind gift-giving (which is a traditional act in many celebrations) – to show and share appreciation, to connect more personally, and to renew and strengthen a relationship. So don’t be afraid to develop your own little holiday traditions and rituals for they will psychologically anchor you in a good way.

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and bountiful holiday season!

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