Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Dec

The Power of Holiday Tradition

Sure, we believe in happy, healthy holidays. Why else would we (in the good company of other blogs, magazines, and newspapers) serve up “healthy” holiday tips: recipes, activities, etc. to make your Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, etc. more health conscious? We absolutely think that it’s worth offering healthy ideas that may spark a desired change for those who are looking for it. (The intent, at least in our suggestions, isn’t a full revision of holiday celebration but a presentation of possible options that may catch our readers’ interest. In other words: a bit of integration perhaps, but not a full out substitution. )

The fact is, we also recognize (and personally relish) that comforting, soothing, centering “other” element that keeps us returning to the same holiday practices every year (getting a tree on a particular day, preparing a specific meal, baking an old family recipe, attending a particular service or festival, watching a certain old movie). Sure, the repetition for some might signify stagnation, dogma or lack of creativity. But for most of us, our holiday rituals offer tremendous meaning – for us individually and for our families and social/spiritual circles. Holidays, we think, give us the opportunity to feed parts of ourselves that tend to get short shrift in this fast-paced modern society – our social health, our spiritual well-being.

What would Grok have to say about the power of ritual and tradition? A lot, we think. Anthropologists and cultural historians are in pretty good agreement that common community practices and celebrations went a long way to solidifying families, tribes and eventually larger societies. Communal tradition helped solidify members’ commitment to the group and encouraged the survival-enhancing instincts toward alliance-building. (Grok and his family had a better chance of lasting through famine if they had “people,” you know.) As human societies evolved and larger regional cultures developed, communal traditions took on more advanced spiritual and emotional resonance.

In more modern times, experts say, celebratory customs preserve elements of family and community strained by other societal developments (long work hours, farther distances between family members). “If you look at the way [holiday] rituals developed, they really served to protect the family from the forces of the outside industrial world that was pulling them apart,” explains Barbara Fiese, Professor of Psychology at the University of Syracuse and author of Family Routines and Rituals. In a review of 50 years’ worth of research on modern family ritual, Dr. Fiese and her colleagues found that “family routines and rituals are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition.” Re-centering around the traditions that define our family and cultural history or our spiritual sense of the sacred can ground us when so much else in life (finances, work, etc.) seems volatile.

Even the act of remembering the traditions and meaningful times we’ve spent with our loved ones research suggests, can boost our mental health. In a recent study examining the therapeutic elements of nostalgia, researchers found that wistful reminiscence “increases self-esteem [and] fosters social connectedness.” It can also, the researchers comment, “give us a greater sense of continuity and meaning to our lives” by encouraging a “positive view” of the past and an emotional coherence between our past and present life. Whether it’s telling old stories around the dinner table or observing long-lived family/cultural customs, this emotional coherence has the power to anchor our sense of self as well as strengthen familial/social ties.

The great thing about the power of tradition is that it doesn’t take much: a taste, a whiff, a glimpse, a touch, a day. Sure, some of us may come out of the holiday season feeling temporarily laden with a sense of over-indulgence, but there’s plenty of precedent for occasional intemperance. Grok, for his part, had his festival (and likely post-hunt) days of outright gorging and unapologetic sloth. A day here and there of extravagance and relative inactivity has its definite pluses. Brief celebrations of excess can leave us more resolved and patient for the inevitable return to leaner times, so to speak. Long after the leftovers have been eaten, the holidays can leave us satiated in more significant, lingering ways – refreshed by respite, revived by togetherness and gratitude, re-centered by meaningful custom. Come January, we’re ready to get back in the saddle and meet our mundane, “everyday” lives with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose. In the meantime, Apples, enjoy yourselves over these holidays!

Have certain traditions that you can’t celebrate without? Rituals that feed the soul? Share your favorite customary activities and delights.

kadesoto Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Savoring the Holidays

You vs. The Mob: Mob Eating Mentality

Dear Mark: Family Dinners

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Happy Holidays to you and your family Mark!

    Son of Grok wrote on December 24th, 2008
  2. As always, great post and very appropriate. Happy Holidays to those at MDA and to all readers!

    Rudolph wrote on December 24th, 2008
  3. “…wistful reminiscence ‘increases self-esteem [and] fosters social connectedness’… – I’ll definitely keep this in mind as my grandparents start telling me the same exact story for the 50,000th time!
    Happy Holidays!

    Jane wrote on December 24th, 2008
  4. Hey Mark, and the rest of the MDA team. I wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season, and a great new year. This blog has played a big role in my life in the past year, and I am very grateful for all the efforts you guys have made. Thank you :-)

    Apurva

    Apurva Mehta wrote on December 24th, 2008
  5. It’s funny, my family always plays the same Dr. Demento Christmas album every year as the start of the holiday music, but it just wouldn’t be the same without it. I hear what you’re saying.

    Happy Holidays!!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

    Andrew R wrote on December 24th, 2008
  6. Thank you, Apurva, and a happy holiday to you as well. Thanks for being such a loyal reader and keep up the fantastic work. Cheers!

    And happy holidays to SoG, Rudolph and everyone else reading!

    Mark Sisson wrote on December 24th, 2008
  7. Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house….

    31 years and running for the reading of what has to be one of the most famous holiday poems in my family.

    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

    Zen Frittata wrote on December 24th, 2008
  8. Well put, Mark. It helps to explain what I was feeling when I set up my deceased husband’s train layout under the tree this year.

    Thanks and Merry Christmas!

    Grandma Ann wrote on December 24th, 2008
  9. Merry Christmas to all who are primal:) Hope the next year will bring joy to all!!!!

    Vanessa wrote on December 25th, 2010

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