The thing about traditions, is that they're meaningless without us.
This year we did a Christmas Eve family book exchange. We were ditching an old tradition that didn't work for us anymore, and thought we'd try this new one out to see if it was a fit. I pulled the family onboard, and we picked names from a basket. Each then decided on a book for that person, leaving a handwritten note on the inside cover explaining why you chose it for them. On Christmas Eve they were the only gifts unwrapped.
One friend let me know that it mirrors the Icelandic tradition, Jolabokaflod, of book gifting on Christmas Eve. And several others reached out asking that I let them know how it "worked out" for our family.
So here's the thing. It took some work. It was a little messy at times with family dynamics. And also... it was great.
Our kids are still kids. So while they seemed excited to try out a new tradition, they all needed support. We reminded. We funded their efforts. We took them to the store, listened to their ideas for the book they hoped to find their person, and guided them if needed. We prompted they get them wrapped, and supported the little boys in doing it.
And maybe you're thinking after after all that, it went off without a hitch. Not quite. Christmas Eve came, everyone sat around the tree.... and bickered. Someone's foot was too close to someone else's. Someone took somebody's seat. You get the picture.
It took coordination. It took support. It took perseverance to follow through. It took putting out little sibling fires.
But then one by one we opened our books. We read the notes left for each another. Some wanted them read aloud, others wanted them kept private. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I read the words and love my thirteen year old son penned into the front flap of the book he chose for me ("The World According to Mr Rogers"). Every single one of us felt good. Good about the love we gave. Good about the love shared back.
Then - we sat in front of that tree and read. And it truly was great.
(Until someone was hungry, and someone else's foot got dangerously close again to someone else's - don't forget we're totally imperfect here.)
For some even, the gift and warmth of the tradition didn't stop that night. My husband had picked the name of our youngest. He got him a book about camping activities. And more than just reading it, they've been DOING the activities in the book together this week. Today was building a lean-to. And it's been magic - because of the effort and love put into making it so.
And that's just it. Traditions, they rely on us.
It's our job to bring the meaning to the tradition, but when we do - they can be so meaningful.
None are perfect. Because we're not perfect. But with intention and heart and follow through, they can weave such beautiful threads of love between us.
And this one, the Christmas Eve book exchange, we're hanging onto this one.