Breaking Tradition

Family means different things to different people.  For some, it is an unending source of comfort, love, and support.  For others, they are the people you like and love, but don’t necessarily need to see all the time.  For others unfortunately family can be a source of great stress and heartache.  And family does not have to be just the people you’re related to.  In some cases, the close-knit bond that some people feel for their family is felt through friendships.  Covenmates are often considered a second family to many Pagans and Witches.  And of course there is the family you create with a partner.


Whoever your family is, I bet you have established some sort of routine or tradition or common action that has been passed down through your lineage or your history.  Traditions connect us to our past and establish a framework to plan the future,  Here are a few of mine from my blood and friend families:

  • Every year on Christmas Mom makes us sing happy birthday to Baby Jesus.  And then I make French toast and mimosas and we watch Charlie Brown.
  • Being passive-aggressive is a long standing Woods family tradition. Also holding on to grudges.
  • Working in a service profession is big in my family.  My mom and cousin are teachers, my dad and grandparents are clergy, my sister works for a nonprofit, and I work at a university.  Even my aunt who works for a large corporation is actively involved in charity work.
  • Fiscal irresponsibility is something that has been passed down over the years.
  • Respecting our differences is huge for us.
Some of these traditions are great.  I look forward to my Charlie Brown and french toast every year.  But as you may have noticed, some of these traditions are not so good.  That’s the thing with traditions.  We hold them as sacred even when they are detrimental to our well-being.  You are supposed to be miserable or to be in debt or to communicate in a certain way because that is the way it has always been done.
But you know what, lovely reader? That mentality is bull shit.  It assumes that we as humans have no agency, no free will, and no ability to change the social contract we were born into.  Which is simply not true.  If you can will, dare, know, and keep some things sacred, then you can create whatever life you want.  That means you can reject some traditions that are affecting you negatively.
The key to getting out of a “have to” or “traditional” mindset is to go inward to look at yourself with compassion and to understand your needs.  Ask yourself, does this feel right to me?  Do I actually like doing this? Easier said than done, I know.  But forging your own identity and deciding to accept or reject your family traditions is part of both shadow work and growing up.  It’s hard and always worth it.  This evaluation process will also give you some unexpected results.  For myself while I definitely did not take on the religious tradition of my family, I learned the value of a spiritual life from my clergy family members.  And clearly if a tradition feels right to you, maintain it, love it, and grow it.
The next step is to evaluating traditions is to set some boundaries.  This is especially true when it comes to the holidays.  For example I have had to communicate to my family that now that I live in New England, I can’t make it back to Pennsylvania for every holiday and family event.  Clearly I’ll be back as much as I can, but not all the time.  And some people, my mother namely, have had a hard time adjusting to that.  But as long as boundaries are kindly and clearly communicated, other people’s reactions to those boundaries are not your responsibility, lovely reader. You may have to remind yourself of your own boundaries.  For example to help kick the long standing family tradition of fiscal irresponsibility, I have a lot of alerts set from my bank to remind me of my bills and exactly how much money is in my account.
The best part of this process of sorting through traditions is creating new ones to replace the ones you have decided do not serve you. By letting go of the old, you need to put something new in its place (if not the old might just come back eek!).  If you have been sitting back and evaluating traditions that no longer serve you, this time of the year is perfect for exploring and starting new traditions.  The creative vein of Imbolc and the stirring of the Spring Equinox is such a great energy to be in when trying new things and making better choices.  Sit with it and see what ideas come to you.
Whatever traditions you choose to reject, the one tradition you should definitely keep is the love and support you share with your loved ones.  Whether family by blood or family by love (or both),  these ties will sustain you during the good times and the bad.  And they are worth strengthening. Your family may want to create new traditions with you.


© Ariadne Woods

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