New and Improved Holiday Traditions
Written by: Lindsay Shugerman
Contributed by Info Guru Lindsay Shugerman
People love their holiday traditions. They love the favorite Christmas stocking or the candles in the family-heirloom Hanuakkah menorah. But even our most treasured holiday traditions started somewhere. From generation to generation, things evolve, practices (and priorities) change.
The result is often new and improved holiday traditions that blend the ways of previous generations with the values of our own time. Here’s a look at 10 evolving holiday traditions in the U.S., from the three major Abrahamic religions, plus a couple of “secular” holidays getting a new look.
10. Fruit cake redux
Almost everyone has heard the fruitcake jokes. From doorstops to secret weapons, they have been mocked and maligned. But today’s fruitcake isn’t the dry, crumbly tasteless block of yesteryear. Instead, fruitcake has evolved into a rich, flavorful batter dotted with fresh fruit and crunchy nuts, then marinated in fine peach brandy, with nary a green cherry or red chunk of pineapple in sight.
9. Easter candy revised
Do you remember the Easter candy of your childhood? Odds are there were lots of sugary snacks in colors nature never intended. Now, I’m not one to dis Peeps (they are timeless!) but the contents of Easter baskets has been changing of late.
In place of some of those artificially colored, artificially sweetened candies, today’s kids are finding handmade, wholesome brownies, organic energy bars, dried and fresh fruit and other healthier treats. Small toys and books as Easter basket fillers are also gaining popularity.
8. A second life for Christmas trees
Once upon a time, Christmas trees ended their life in a sad pile at the curb, waiting to be picked up with the rest of the holiday trash.
No so today, when most cities in the U.S. have Christmas tree recycling programs in place. Collected or dropped off trees are chipped into mulch or used as clean land fill for construction or environmental projects. That means all those used up trees won’t be taking up precious space in already over-crowded dumps. Some people even add to the new tradition by using the old tree as a feeding station for animals during winter before recycling it in spring.
7. Passover message for today
Generations of Jews have sat around the Passover table retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. But for many of today’s Jews, that old retelling isn’t enough. That’s why there is a large and growing trend towards talking not just about the past, but about how the lessons learned can be applied to those in bondage or slavery in today’s world.
This process of reapplying old teachings to new situations is a wonderful example of the new and improved holiday traditions that reflect our increased awareness of the suffering still existing among many of the earth’s population.
6. Valentines go virtual
They started out as elaborate, postcard sized greetings from friends and friends. Then they evolved into tiny, colorful cards exchanged in classrooms across the country. Now it seems that the Valentine has started the move towards becoming virtual. Like birthday and other holiday wishes, people are now more likely to ask someone one to be their Valentine on Facebook than with a paper card. The good news? Presenting one’s beloved with a sweet treat is still happening in the real world — but with so many long-distance relationships, it’s just as likely to be ordered from a website and delivered as it is to be presented in person.
5. Trick or treat in trunks
Years ago, costumed children wandered their neighborhoods, trick or treat bags in hand, knocking on doors and filling their bags with candy, apples, or even home-baked cookies. Over the years, a few bad apples made parents leery of allowing kids to wander alone, or even eat the treats they received from strangers.
Today’s evolution of the Halloween experience may be a new and improved version, or it may be a sadly reduced version, but either way, a new trend towards Trunk Trick or Treat is a safer model. The way it goes is that parents gather in a parking lot, their cars decked out with decorations (some scary, some funny), and their trunks filled with candy. The trunks are opened, and kids go from decorated car to decorated car collecting traditional Halloween loot. No strangers, no crossing streets and no wondering where the kids have wandered.
4. Christmas on the streets
One of the sad side effects of our challenging economy has been a big increase in poverty and homelessness. But many families are responding to this crisis by making reaching out a part of their holiday tradition. From gift trees for less fortunate kids or “adopting” a family in need for the holidays to heading out to bring holiday cheer, gifts and meals to people on the street, the number of people participating in some kind of outreach around Christmas time has increased tremendously. And many parents are reporting that these new traditions have become their family’s favorite part of the holiday season.
3. New Year’s Eve at home
New Year’s Eve is traditionally associated with heading out for a night on the town, complete with parties and drinking. But sadly, that also increases the risk of accidents and other injuries. Thankfully, many people are replacing the old party routine with at-home celebrations to welcome the new year. People gather with neighbors, host sleep-overs for kids, and schedule fun activities like game nights, dessert parties, and ice cream sundae feasts, all without the hazards of the New Year’s Eve highways.
2. Ramadan redefined
Most people know Ramadan is a season of fasting and introspection. But in recent years, many groups of Muslims have transformed their fasts into feasts for the less fortunate. Led by student groups, the idea has caught in, and is now a popular tradition in many parts of the country. Money that would have been used for the missed meals is pooled and food is purchased, prepared for and served to people on the streets, in shelters and in low-income housing.
1. Turkey-friendly Thanksgiving
For a growing number of people, Thanksgiving isn’t about feasting on a bird. Instead, more and more people are choosing to spare the turkey and enjoy their holiday with vegetarian and vegan options instead. A few years ago, Tofurky offered the first vegan alternative to the holiday turkey. Last year, there were four companies offering turkey-saving choices for the holiday meal. Even among those who do prefer the real thing, the number of vegetable dishes, salads and fruits on the Thanksgiving Day table have increased, while pies and heavy sweet side dishes have dwindled, making this food-based holiday a healthier one, too.
Over time, holiday traditions arise, grow and change. But what remains the same is the love we have for gathering together and celebrating. In the end, that’s what counts most of all.