square bulletTradition as a Way to Stay Connected

From , MS, Training Coordinator, Trauma Informed Oregon

Tradition as a Way to Connect

Since my junior year in high school, my mom has given my siblings and me Christmas Pajamas every year. It hasn’t necessarily been my favorite gift, but I have come to expect the pajamas to be wrapped under the tree every year as this has been one of my mom’s favorite (of many) traditions. Originally, the pajamas were more practical than other gifts, as they became everyday around-the-house lounge wear no matter the season. Then they would get stored away in a secluded bin that was located in a dark corner of the garage stuffed with previous years’ Christmas jammies. Although I didn’t really care either way if I received the pajamas, I still kept them, not really aware of the reason why, but till this day I still have them all.

Over the pandemic I felt, along with everyone else, the huge and rapid shift and uproot of routine, normalcy and predictability, and it became most apparent during the birthdays and holidays. Regular routines around celebrations and holidays were interrupted, and in some cases, disappeared altogether. It felt very isolating, especially with a small child that has spent most of his life living through a pandemic. In the world of trauma-informed care, we know that predictability and power is how we create and keep safety, and with the pandemic and all the other happenings, that had completely vanished. I had to adjust by the hour on some days and wing it while caring for my little one.

There are some aspects of my life and the world my son does not know or understand because it’s something he has never experienced. For example, seeing faces, specifically non-family, without a mask on is mostly foreign to him. So trying to explain to him that this isn’t “normal” is pointless because for him, it’s all he knows. Coming to that realization also made me think about other things that he wouldn’t experience that have always been part of my life. So when my mom sent the text, “I think this year I am going to skip getting Christmas pajamas” I flipped and became irrationally hysterical. I don’t experience hysteria often, if ever at all, but for some reason, that text sent me over the edge. I told my mom that she could not do that and I was really looking forward to it this year, still not knowing the reason – probably couldn’t even locate the stuffed bin full of past years’ jammies, and even still didn’t want to go without that tradition this year. When she felt my reaction, she went out and got us all our yearly jammies, including the grandkids. Reflecting back, I see that my reaction was one of a flipped lid because I lost control, my sense of placement, safety and assuredness that this time of year always gave me.

Over the holiday break, I realized it was the tradition of receiving the pajamas (along with a coffee run in our jammies) that I so badly wanted to not only stay the same but to share with my son. As mundane, simple and anti-climactic receiving holiday pajamas every year had become, I wanted the normalcy and routine of my holidays to be intact. I was needing that tradition to share with my child as a way to connect and share/pass down parts of me that had been part of my life for so long.

I realized we are all looking for something that feels familiar that will ground us in our comforts, and that’s essentially what reclaiming our tradition of gifted jammies and the family coffee run did for me this year. Most days during the pandemic are spent winging it and adapting every moment to constant changes around me, so keeping this ritual brought a sense of “I’m at home” and “ordinary” that I didn’t even know I was preparing for since receiving my first pair of Christmas jammies my junior year of high school, which was close to twenty years ago.

I encourage you to keep culture, customs and traditions alive in your world (even if at times they seem pointless). They not only create a sense of power and control, but are a way to stay connected to people and rituals that make you feel a sense of belonging and emotional and spiritual safety that has been misplaced since the pandemic (along with other world happenings). In those moments, I am able to truly rest and be in relation with my son, family and loved ones, and most of all, myself.

Reflective Questions:

  1. What is a tradition or ritual that has brought you a moment of peace and connectedness during this season? And did you cling to it more?
  2. What are some ways you can create safety, power and choice in your daily life (for example, sticking to a routine)?