Ho-hum holiday? Maybe traditions need an update

Have the holidays gone from ho-ho-ho to ho-hum? Maybe it's time to alter, or ditch, some traditions in favor of new ways to celebrate.

The holidays are coming, and that often means falling into routine get-togethers with family and friends.

While there are undoubtedly cherished traditions that everyone looks forward to, others can be as welcome as stale fruitcake.

First, lose the guilt if you would rather take a pass on the communal viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life," making holiday cookies nobody seems to want anymore or hosting that December party whose luster has faded. People who have "holiday burnout" shouldn't feel bad, said Samuel T. Gladding, professor of counseling at Wake Forest University.

"People get tired of doing the same thing year after year, day after day, holiday after holiday," Gladding said.

Instead, to avoid having the holidays feel as if they're on autopilot, consider introducing new activities, adding a new dish to the holiday meal or modernizing decorations. These are just some of the ideas to tweak the routine to make the season feel less like the movie "Groundhog Day" and more like a chance to spend quality time together.


When considering a change, revisit why a certain tradition exists, said Francine Rosenberg, psychologist with Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany, N.J.

"Is it based on convenience? Where the family is located?" Rosenberg asked, adding that these are the kinds of questions to ask when considering whether a tradition still serves a purpose.

Although it may be tempting to completely jettison tradition, P.J. McGuire, owner of Modet, an etiquette and interpersonal skills training firm in Chicago, advises against anything too extreme.

"Try infusing the parts you do enjoy about the holidays with new ideas to make an updated family tradition," McGuire said. "Revise the recipe no one really likes, change dinner to brunch or suggest a potluck at a fun location besides someone's home."

Here are a few more tips to liven up the holidays:

• Change the time frame.Routines don't have to have strict timelines, Gladding said. "Rearrange how you approach the season — such as when you will do the baking, the shopping, when you send holiday cards." One person we know, too overwhelmed to send Christmas cards, sends New Year's cards after Christmas Day, when she has fewer obligations.

Make new memories.One idea, said Susan Palma, co-author of the coffee table book, "Sophistication Is Overrated," is to make cookies together — but make the recipes as simple as possible. "Get people over ahead of time to make them, and choose easy ones everyone can make, like thumbprint cookies," she said. "It's a great way to spend time together."

Add new activities.As families grow, it's a good time to add something new, Rosenberg said. "Younger generations are going to want to add new traditions and take ownership," she said. "Children feel very proud when they participate in adding a new family tradition that sticks and becomes part of their holiday for years to come." That may mean letting go of some activities that no longer appeal to everyone.


Share family history, and accentuate the positive.Pull out old family photographs and gather everyone to look at them and talk about achievements, Gladding said. Sharing family history "strengthens individuals, and it strengthens families. If you know the past, you are much more likely to benefit from it and be inspired or determined to make the future better — or at least as good as the past," he said.

Add some personality to the tree.A Christmas tree "should reflect the person it belongs to," said Jung Lee, co-founder of Fete, an event planning and design production firm in New York. "Think of what brings a lot of joy and excites you; that's what the tree should be."

Communication is key before updating traditions."No one likes being left out of the loop," McGuire said. "If you're going for a complete overhaul of holiday traditions during your turn as host, let everyone know what to expect and how they can be involved. You never know, your great-aunt may have some amazing ideas she was afraid to try."

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