Finding contentment in new holiday traditions

By Scott Funk

Some of the most dramatic changes of aging can be centered on the holidays. Each family has its own customs. Whether that means placing an ancient and honored menorah in the front window, or being the first house on Main Street to light and decorate a tree in the big bay window, these are ways we define ourselves as individuals and families.

Time can force changes on us in different ways. Over the course of years, we may have to adapt to celebrations in new places, with new people, or without some of the loved ones who were the center of our traditions. I can still recall the first hollow Easter we decorated the house, oblivious of the fact that two older people were not going to be searching out colored eggs on Sunday morning. When the special day arrived, our home felt so empty, I still hear the echo of it ringing down from Easter to Easter.

Easter simply isn’t the same once the children have outgrown coloring and hunting for eggs. Kids are supposed to grow up and away. In the best of situations, our little ones will be adapting our traditions in the homes they build for families of their own. This can mean some trips to grandparents’ for the holidays and some grandparents traveling for the holidays.

Beyond the changes our children’s growing up brings, are the more challenging ones aging brings to us. Some of it is just that as we grow older, it takes longer to do things. Decorating every room in a large house is fine when you are in your 30’s, but the further you get past 50, the longer each of those rooms takes. This brings the conversation to moving to an aging-appropriate home.

Traditions are not always portable. I found this out in relocating from a Victorian on Main Street to a Colonial on a quiet cul-de-sac. Imagine my shock on the Fourth of July when no parade marched past the house. It wasn’t something I had thought through. There had always been a parade; why should this Fourth be different?

After an unsettled hour or two, I got my expectations readjusted to a complete day off, gardening with patriotic music on my iPod. It turned out to be a very nice and meaningful day. In the quiet of the yard, listening to marching bands, old folk songs, and, of course, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” I had time to think a lot about my country and the blessings I receive as a citizen.

Now, the holidays are coming and we already know a lot of the decorations won’t fit in our new home. The tree will be eight feet tall at best, no children are expected to visit, and we will be traveling to family rather than the other way around, because we moved, and they didn’t.

The prospect of all this change and the loss of so many time-honored traditions can create ambivalent feelings. Part of me is relieved at less work and more time to relax and enjoy the season, but another part never really expected anything to change. Deep in the back of my mind is a Norman Rockwell picture featuring me in a comfortable, old chair, surrounded by familiar things and doting loved ones. This year there will be a new picture and in five years that will likely have become the tradition I value so highly.

Aging in place doesn’t happen by accident. It comes with change, but that doesn’t change the happiness of the holidays.

Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families.

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