I love the years when holiday celebrations synch up – like this year, when my family was gathering for Passover Seder meals on the same weekend as friends and colleagues were enjoying their Easter rituals. I love the parallel preparations and anticipation, the extra level of hubbub in the grocery stores, the common aura of ‘specialness,’ and even the shared post-feast moaning about over-indulging at extravagant dinners. It verifies the truth that we collectively have more similarities than we do differences, and it was nice to experience them so tangibly this year.

Passover is my favorite holiday even though it requires far more work than any other week on my calendar. It’s my favorite because it holds so many layers of tradition. Not only the pattern of celebration that’s been predictable for 100 generations, but also which holiday specific foods will appear, who’s likely to arrive last, and that someone’s going to tell the same corny joke I’ve heard 40-something times before. This year I got to thinking about the comfort we feel in familiarity. And then I got to thinking that sometimes there’s a familiar discomfort wrapped up in the holidays too.

This year I had the wild idea (read: really not wild at all) to apply the critical thinking I encourage in everyday life to the holidays too. Just like with everything else, ‘because that’s the way it’s always been’ isn’t enough reason to keep doing what we’ve always done. Our actions are informed by our thoughts, and our thoughts are formed based on our beliefs, and our beliefs… well, often those were formed when we were far too young to measure them for truth. Experts say we compile most of our beliefs before the age of 2, and we’ve got pretty much a full set by about age 8. We believe the truths of our elders are true and their behavior is best. We ‘be’ and ‘do’ as we’re shown, just as they did when they too were small. Just like that, a cycle continues uninterrupted until someone stops and says, “wait a minute, does what I’m doing make me feel good? Does it make sense in the context of what I’ve decided/learned are my truths? Are my behaviors in congruence with my highest and greatest good?”

I know this stuff, I teach this stuff, and even I let myself do as I’ve always done just because ‘I wouldn’t dare challenge tradition’. As I prepared for Passover this year, I allowed myself to challenge whether what I was doing was in integrity with what I really wanted or whether it was just a Belief that things could never change. As I shopped for the ingredients of traditional recipes I weighed why I prepared them – some non-healthy foods (I mean REALLY non-healthy, sugar and oil, 1960’s style recipes) made the cut because they’re family favorites tied up in memories of long-lost-loved-ones lovingly preparing them and some I realized I could forego because they’d been shuffled in under the belief that there were no alternatives. As I wrote my to-do list to prepare for our festive meals I actually thought about the responsibilities I was taking on – my mom, bless her giving mindset, did everything herself and so I thought it was my duty to do the same… but what if I delegated and let that be our new normal? Would others feel the connection to the holiday that I do by investing their time and energy into preparing for it? Would I enjoy the process of preparing more with space around each task to focus on what I was doing? Less overwhelm sure seemed like a plus! As the actual celebration unfolded I reminded myself to be present with each guest – not in the role I expected each person to play in the ‘holiday-screen-play’ we’d co-created by experiencing Passover tradition together over umpteen years (I know who always sits where, who hogs the pickles, who stirs trouble by talking politics), but actually who they showed up as this year based on what they’ve experienced since we were last together – I’m different than I was, why wouldn’t they be?

You know what I learned this year? Traditions are traditions for a reason. It’s safe, stable and wonderfully reassuring to have something predictable to return to. Unless it’s not. Unless the traditions that roll around make you feel icky, make you feel like you need to brace yourself and walk through them. We have the power, once we open our eyes to evaluate them, to pick and choose which traditions to follow because they enrich us, and which are prime targets for renovation and recreation.

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