How Tradition Tricks You Into Wanting Things You Don’t Need

Traditions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and 4th of July are a huge part of American culture. These traditions spawn shopping trips, consumerism and more. What can we do to be more mindful about our holiday choices?

. 3 min read. Mindfulness, Minimalism, Personal.
Handing a small Christmas present

When Mrs. Minafi and I got together there were a lot of assumptions on my part about what a relationship would include. It was only a matter of time before we decided to buy a house, have kids and settle down, right? Every Christmas we would set up a huge tree with elaborate decorations. Each Halloween we’d give out candy and decorate more.

Traditions you celebrate as a kid can stick with you. I have noticed myself attempting to recreate those bright childhood memories in the form of holidays or physical spaces to revisit those moments. Some of these recreations are more out of habit than hope and could use another look.

Break the Cycle

Over the years there have been times when Mrs. Minafi and I decided to break tradition. Take this year for example. We decided to not get each other anything for Christmas. Ok, we got each other cards, and a consumable item or two (wine – I’m talking about wine) but no wrapped items under the tree. This decision increased our happiness far exceeding anything we would’ve gotten as gifts.

After my mom passed away, I flew up to the Boston area and spent Thanksgiving with my dad. That was the very first heavily-traditional holiday that came up after her passing. While Thanksgiving had traditionally been a massive meal surrounded by as much family as we could fit in a single location, this year was just him and I cooking and talking.

It was a chance to start a new tradition and question what I wanted to get out of Thanksgiving. For me, I realized it was more around deeper connections to people in my life. When taking that a step further, I realized those connections could happen any time of the year – not only on Thanksgiving.

My dad and I developed a new tradition that Thanksgiving as well. On Black Friday we decided to spend some time out in nature. We drove out to Walden Pond and walked around it. This is the pond that Henry David Thoreau lived at in a small 1-room house for 2 years starting 1845. Thoreau was a transcendentalist, but he could very well be considered a minimalist in today terminology. Transcendentalism borders on a lot of what we think of today.

A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent.

Transcendentalism is the roots for a number of popular movements today. Do-it-yourself, frugality, and minimalism to name a few. The Frugalwoods comes to mind when reading this as do many other writers and bloggers who have decided to break with tradition in their living situations like Steve from Think Save Retire.

American Traditions

We grow up with many traditions that shape our view of the world. Each person experiences these differently. Here are some of the ones that were etched into me in some way growing up.

  • Holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, Halloween, Birthdays, Easter, Fourth of July.
  • Sports – Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, World Cup, Olympics, NBA Finals, tailgating.
  • Marriage & Family – Have kids, settle down, get married.
  • House – Buy a house to settle down in. (would an apartment be better?)
  • Entertainment – Going out to movies, bars, shopping with friends.

Some of the largest impact to me in discovering minimalism and mindfulness was a focus on reflecting on traditions and realizing which ones I love, and which I’ve merely been doing out of habit or a sense of responsibility. You have no responsibility to continue traditions you don’t enjoy. If there are other things I could do that might provide more happiness, I want to pursue those instead.

Most of these traditions have a high consumption component as well. Are there any traditions above that don’t involve buying something? Christmas is the big one, but each holiday has its own shopping trip(s) in order to make them happen in the “traditional” sense. There is no rule that you can’t change a tradition to remove the consumption component.

Keep Your Favorite Traditions

If you love a tradition, then keep doing it! This isn’t a criticism of them in general – but a reminder to focus on matters into your life. If you look forward to everything related to setting up a haunted house for Halloween and giving out candy – that’s awesome, don’t change it!

If traditions become a burden, don’t feel bad about changing things up. Those moments are an opportunity to start a new tradition. Ever since that Black Friday with my dad, I’ve associated that day with getting away from the city and back to nature. This past Black Friday was the first leg of our journey out to our new home in Salt Lake City.

Do you have any traditions you absolutely love? Any you want to change?

3 comments

  1. There is a Magritte painting called “The Anniversary” — a gigantic rock that fills a whole room. I remember thinking that these annual events have their own script. They take all of the spontaneity away. Ever since then I’ve tried to rethink the holidays and pick out the good and remove stuff that seems like someone else’s idea.

    Now that your Mom has passed, you no longer have Mother’s Day which is sad. But that particular day is one that I’ve always felt sets us all up to spend money. Over the years, i have switched to giving my Mom day trips. I love the photo you have of Walden Pond and your new day after Thanksgiving walk. Beautiful.

  2. Nice post, I’ve been striving more and more to shift toward doing things on those traditional holidays, instead of giving things. Spending a day or an afternoon at Walden pond is an excellent example. You can’t buy that in stores!

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