As a kid, I took for granted that family holiday routines would continue forever. Even the coconut cake was as revered as a holy sacrament. I had no clue the amount of preparation it took for these gatherings to happen, let alone for them to have ever taken hold enough to be considered traditions in the first place. It took becoming an in-law myself to realize the coordination, scheduling and compromise involved in getting several families of all ages together for even an afternoon.
Now I’ve learned that, even with diligent efforts and intentions, traditional routines will change. Among extended family, there will be welcome additions like babies, and unwelcome additions like the rebound girlfriend. There will be absences due to illness, college or military service; there will be losses from divorce or death. Some changes are sudden and tragic; some are more or less expected (after all, the aged great aunt who keeps saying this will be her last year is going to be proven right one day).
As settled you may think your holidays are, I’ve observed that most of us are doing well to get a five-to-ten year run out of a tradition. It’s just the nature of families. At some point the torch is passed to us and it’s our turn to keep it going or establish something new. Even as we moms work at weaving another link in the chain, it will only take one disinterested offspring to break it a few years down the road.
The real point of a tradition, no matter the effort or the tedium involved, is to be a signpost on the fleeting journey of intersecting lives. This is how we are going to mark time and perhaps even our only interaction with some relatives.
So take comfort in the friends and family you see this season, and don’t assume you will have plenty more years to visit these people, alternate travel between families, or enjoy the company of that great aunt.