For many families, finding a balance of traditions can become a nightmare. A blended family, one with stepparents, can end up heading into nuclear meltdown over something as simple as when Christmas gifts should be opened. This is because we base a lot of our emotional and family lives in traditions, even those we might normally say aren't very important.
Because our traditions only occur at specific times, under specific circumstances, we often make emotional connections during those times that only flare up once they've returned. Feelings that were hurt as children can resurface, old wounds and resentments can reopen, and lost or absent family members' presence is more sorely missed.
Likewise, positive feelings and situations are often relegated to traditional times and holidays that we spend together. It's possible that, as children age and scatter, the holidays are the only time the whole family is together. That's not a sad thing, but a joyful one. And it's encoded in each tiny tradition that we share over those times, from the traditional dishes we make and serve together to the jokes that nobody seems to remember the rest of the year.
A family is a moving target: not just Mom and Pop and two-and-a-half kids, but who those kids became, their mates and children, and all the traditions they've imported as a result. But your family is also forever: the only group that you're born connected to -- and remain connected to -- your whole life. When you look at it this way, you can see that what we call "family" is really just one frame in a long, long movie.
Tradition ties us all upward into our family trees, and down into the families that are still being created. It's a way of honoring our ancestors and departed family members, and of welcoming new members in. Family traditions are physical representations of our place in a never-ending story that includes everyone we've ever loved, and everybody they've ever loved, and so on. Observing and preserving tradition, and teaching it to our children, grounds us all in an ongoing project that will last far beyond our own short time on Earth.