Eight Diwali oil lamps arranged in a decorative star pattern.

Renewing Rituals: Creativity and Holiday Traditions

As the weather starts to turn cold in much of the northern hemisphere, thoughts move toward the many late fall and winter holidays. In this practical post I explore ways of infusing our holiday celebrations with more imagination.

Whether you celebrate Halloween or the Days of the Dead, Diwali or Thanksgiving, or eventually Channukah, Kwanza, Christmas, or festivals of the New Year, this time of year overflows with celebrations. No matter your holiday of choice or heritage, it is probably caught up in time-honored traditions. All established holidays have traditional elements, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t also room for creativity.

Resisting Renewal

Some people become very nervous when the term “creativity” is mentioned in relation to holidays. They automatically think that if you “get creative” with celebrations, it means eliminating traditional elements altogether. To my mind, doing away with all traditions would erase the uniqueness of a holiday and convert it into a generic celebration. So how do we create balance between tradition and change in our holiday festivities?

Recalling the very definition of creativity can provide us a path forward for renovating holiday celebrations. A commonly accepted definition of creativity is the making of new connections for a productive or useful outcome. When we apply this to the holidays, we can consider making connections between customary elements and innovative ones, or even creating new meanings for old symbols and practices.

Varieties of Variation

Infusing creativity into our fall and winter holidays can be as simple as adapting to new realities. My husband and I love Halloween, but during the pandemic, we couldn’t do many of our favorite activities. Instead of going to our usual costume parties, we set up a scary movie marathon just for the two of us in the weeks leading up to the holiday. It wasn’t our traditional celebration, but it maintained the feeling of Halloween with a new twist that worked within the unusual circumstances. We did another mini-movie marathon this year, and so it appears that necessity and creativity has led us to a new Halloween tradition.

A jack-o-lantern carved with three neurons instead of face.

Perhaps there are aspects of a traditional holiday celebration that no longer match our values. Instead of focusing on the loss, we can take elements of the old tradition and infuse them with new meaning. Maybe your family has decided to become vegetarian, for example. Instead of mourning the loss of the Thanksgiving turkey, perhaps you celebrate the turkey as an animal and not as food. Turkey decorations and a turkey story could replace the turkey on the platter to creatively maintain an aspect of the traditional celebration, but with new values and new meaning. Putting thought into how your holidays can better reflect your values is a wonderful way to infuse your celebrations with imagination.

A picture of two wild turkeys in an autumn landscape.

Adding creativity to your holiday might simply mean infusing more of your favorite things into your celebration. A few years ago, I decided to consider which sensory experiences really brought me joy. I realized how much I love the taste and smell of citrus, and coincidently, also the colors yellow and orange. When I decided to update my Christmas celebration, I kept my Christmas tree, but I gradually added more citrus elements. My tree still represents Christmas for me, but with orange and lemon decorations, it has acquired more personal flare. Personalization is another pathway to creativity in our holiday celebrations.

Two glasses of gluhwine with citrus garnish in front of an illuminated Christmas tree.

Increasing Innovation

These techniques are not limited to fall and winter celebrations, but rather can infuse creativity into holiday traditions at any time of year. Try some of these techniques (renewal through necessity, reflection on values, and personalization) to infuse added creativity to your next holiday celebration. It is surprising how fulfilling it can be to make our holiday traditions reflect more of who we are and who we want to be.

Happy holidays, whichever ones you observe and however you chose to celebrate!

[Photo note: The jack-o-lantern pictured above was this year’s attempt at infusing my Halloween with more creativity. Because I am increasingly interested in the brain science of creativity, I have been reading up on the processes of creating new neural pathways. This inspired me to decorate my pumpkin differently this year: instead of a face, I carved it with three neurons. Brains… BRAINS!]

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