From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Part of the joy of the holidays is the occasion to relive pleasant memories. Holiday
celebrations are re-enactments of celebrations in the past, combined with new family
traditions. By including both old and new rituals and customs, families are enriched by
their sense of heritage and develop a sense of pride in who they are now. This is called
family continuity, or the continuation of family customs through time.
Though it is tempting to think that family continuity is automatic, it is not. Rather,
family continuity is the result of centuries of wisdom being passed down very
intentionally through the generations. As we move into the holidays, here are a few
thoughts to consider.
- Family leadership is important. Ask any family member and they are usually able
to identify the current family leader. Often, family leaders are the matriarchs or
patriarchs of the family by virtue of their elder status. As with bees, there may be a
queen bee and worker bees. In most families, this is the person around whom everyone
gathers. The family leader may be the keeper of the holiday traditions, recipes, and
common meeting place. Although family members dread the inevitable loss of their leader,
to insure family continuity, it is important to plan for the future leadership of the
- Family leadership changes over time. Unfortunately, family leadership often
changes as the result of death. Death is a particularly unpleasant subject which is
sometimes avoided at all costs. However, all too often, the result of failing to plan for
changes in family leadership is family disorganization and divisiveness upon the death of
the family leader. As such, it is suggested that those who would be next in line as family
leaders should be groomed for their jobs. This is one way to insure family continuity.
- Its never too early to consider the future. Although they may hate to admit it,
many family elders worry about the continuity of their families. While it is glorious to
be "in power" in one's family, family elders do eventually tire and want
assistance from younger members of the family in maintaining traditions. Even more
important, younger members of the family need to learn and practice maintaining family
traditions under the guidance of the family leader. In too many families, children have
not been allowed to help. When traditions are not learned, they are lost.
- Sentimentality, tact and reality. While the timing of death is uncertain, its
inevitability is not. No one is given a date for their demise, so families must be
somewhat prepared. While discussion of death is extremely disconcerting and evokes a
temporary feeling of insecurity, a greater sense of security results from knowing who's in
charge next. Family leaders usually take responsibility for family networking, intervene
in family disputes, and remind others of their family history. When no one assumes that
leadership role, families become distant and less invested in their relationships with
- Consider the aftermath. The most disturbing result of the loss of family
leadership occurs when survivors begin to squabble amongst themselves over last wills and
future leadership. All too often, siblings, cousins, and other family members who were
once close and trustworthy become transformed into villains. In essence, the family
becomes an anarchy, and conflicts over money, status, and even words, become more
important than family unity. To avoid this tragedy, family leaders are encouraged to
discuss their expectations for family relations down the road. If you want children to
remain close and take care of each other, take the opportunity to tell them your feelings
rather than assume they know.
Holiday seasons represent different things to different people. For some, holiday
celebrations are a rememberance of the past; for others, holiday celebrations are new
creations. This holiday season, I'd like to suggest that holidays are also important times
to consider the future.
ęCopyright, 1996, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated February 27, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon,