October 8, 2011

Twenty years ago, when I was 9, my family began a beautiful tradition.  Every Columbus Day weekend, we would go up to my aunt and uncles house in NH, hang out, hike, shop, eat, go on “mandatory fun” field trips, kayak, watch movies, have a huge bonfire and relax for three days.  We celebrated in this way almost every single year, and it expanded such that relatives from California, Florida, South Dakota, South Carolina, Michigan, Nebraska, Tenessee and Texas have joined in the festivities at one time or another.  We have a lot of fun.

Last year's theme: Pumpkin River.

Columbus Day is probably my favorite holiday.  This is not because I have any strong feelings about Chris Columbus – the guy made a wrong turn, so instead of living in the warm West Indies, I reside in New England – but it’s because of tradition.  I love tradition.  I love the structured and predictable events that tradition dictates.  I love the anticipation before a holiday, and I love knowing that I’m going to have just as good a time as I had last year and the years before.

Harpoonfest in Windsor, VT - Last year

Four and a half years ago I began dating my special someone.  That very year, a friend of his from home began a tradition on Columbus Day weekend as well, and everything changed.  This was very disturbing to me at first, because with the positive aspects of tradition, comes a sense of inflexibility and rigidity.  I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just do my tradition.  Four years later, we have grown in such a way that we try to make everyone happy, and if that’s not possible, we discuss what traditions to have, and where, each year.

While usually, we do a “half and half” Columbus Day, and try to be in both places for a little while, last year my grandfather died a few days before Columbus Day, so we spent the whole weekend with my family, and my traditions.  This year, I decided that it was only fair to spend the whole weekend in Maine, especially considering Columbus Day weekend coincides with my bf’s birthday weekend this year as well.  What’s interesting about this, is that it actually feels BETTER to be flexible.  It feels good to work as a team to make sure we’re both happy an equal amount of the time, and I find that I like the Maine traditions – not as much as my NH traditions – but I always have a good time, and I realize that change is not only inevitable, but necessary.

Not a bad alternative...

When I’m at work, I talk with an awful lot of elders who have decided that people don’t have the same values anymore, have complained that the world has changed, and that traditions have fallen by the wayside.  Especially regarding religious and cultural traditions, my old folks are often very inflexible and intolerant to progress.  Something I’ve noticed is that when someone is adverse to progress or change, they also have a really hard time dealing with non-tradition-related changes in their schedules, daily rituals, and physical and cognitive abilities.  The more we allow ourselves to change and step outside of our own complicated boxes, the easier life becomes.  We never know what’s going to happen to us, so why are we so fixated on rules and traditions?

A wise man named Tevye once said, “On the other hand, our old ways were once new, weren’t they?”  Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best musicals of all time, in my opinion.  It shows how a culturally rigid community can realize and eventually embrace the importance of progress and the necessity of change, in the face of pressure, violence, discrimination and war.

We are all capable of change, and it’s not a bad thing.  In fact, those of us who embrace it now are probably more likely to have successful interpersonal relationships and will be less likely to become debilitatingly discouraged when unfortunate things happen later in life.

Today, I miss my traditions to some extent, but I’m more than happy to compromise some things, sometimes, for the progress of my relationship, and my own mental and emotional health.  There’s always next year.

Right now, I’m living in the moment – I’m in a beautiful place, the weather is perfect, the people I’m with are happy to be with me (I think), my dog is overjoyed to be playing with his [much larger] girlfriend, I’m relaxed (and still in my PJs!) and there’s good food and wine.  Who could ask for anything more?  L’Chaim!


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