As we approach the holidays, I’ve been thinking about how and what traditions are passed on from generation to generation. What survives, thrives, or dies? What effort do we put in individually to create or sustain traditions that are important to us, and what makes them important?
My family didn’t really do holiday decorations and gifts, and Santa stopped making an appearance when I was six years old after I told my parents that I didn’t believe in him. My brother cautioned me on that one by telling me not to say anything as “It’s better to believe and receive”, but as the truth teller in my family, I was having none of that. Besides, we lived on the 11th floor of a high rise in Hong Kong at the time with no fireplace or chimney, so the story just didn’t make sense to me. When my grandparents moved to California, we started spending Christmas vacations with them. Our family traditions involved going to church on Christmas morning, and was usually followed by a very non-festive day of Chinese food. As I got older, I wanted more of a Western version of Christmas day, complete with a tree and turkey, ham, or beef with all the trimmings. My influences were more British than American though in that department, so I learnt to make traditional Christmas pudding, mince pies, pigs-in-blanket, Yorkshire puddings, and roast spuds.
I remember spending Christmas with my in-laws soon after I got married, and experienced the Lac family version of Christmas. Much like my family, it wasn’t a big occasion in terms of gifts, but food was of highest priority. Not only did we have a Western feast, but my mother-in-law had spent hours preparing a variety of Asian delights. The weird part for me was that we ate it all with bowls and chopsticks, which I found utterly delightful.
As beautiful as the holidays can be, it is also a time of heightened emotions for many. The holidays may bring to mind the loved ones we’ve lost along the way, extra stress and anxiety about “getting it right”, and the dread of obligation of whom to spend time with. The Hallmark picture perfect version of the holidays may push us towards feeling even more isolated in our struggles. I will often remind my clients that this tradition of pretending that life is perfect for the holiday season is what makes it so hard. The reality is that we all struggle in our own way, and perfection is not the point of this season.
Now that I’ve lived in different parts of the world, and experienced a diverse range of holiday traditions, I realized that the traditions that I hold dear are not so much about how things are done, but the wisdom and philosophy behind why I want to do them. I can hear my grandma’s voice saying that “One should never complain about having eaten too much as it’s an insult to those who remain hungry”, that “Generosity cannot be measured through gifts with ribbons, but from how open your heart is to others”, and most importantly that “The spirit of abundance can show up year round”. So whether it’s volunteering at soup kitchens, participating in food drives, or extending our table to include those who would otherwise be alone, these are the traditions that mean the most.
While my grandma is no longer with me in person, her spirit is very much alive, and inspires me to share her teachings with others. Part of the mission of The HERD Institute is to further the work of the pioneers who came before us. The wisdom of the elders lives on through our actions, and as the field of equine-facilitated work grows and develops, we will be passing on our own traditions to the next generation of practitioners. While it’s important to keep some traditions, it’s also imperative that we evolve as we grow, and question how things are done.
For the Star Wars fans among us who have become enamored by the recent introduction of Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, I’m eagerly awaiting what wisdom has been passed on, as the legendary Master Yoda says, “Always pass on what you have learnt” and also that it’s important to “unlearn what you have learned”. And since the older I get, the more I realize how much more there is to learn, I will also remember his advice that “Much to learn you still have…this is just the beginning!”
So may this holiday season bring you all the wisdom of our elders and the joy of learning. I am certainly ending this decade with a heart full of gratitude for the privilege of being able to share this work with you all.