Being an American entails many things, but one of the most accurate national generalizations is our consistently busy and stressful lifestyles. Some engross themselves in work, others in sports, or school, or whatever else takes a majority of their time. We as a whole are always on-the-go. This forces us to set aside things like family, and the traditions we keep close to our hearts. Especially during this holiday season, I hope to help show people why we should prioritize family and the traditions that build the foundations of our beings.
One specific tradition I always set aside time to attend is my family’s favorite local Halloween attraction, the Jack-o-lantern Spectacular. Held at the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon in Washington Park in Springfield, IL, this is an extremely popular attraction for locals and many others within the central Illinois area. My family made it a tradition to attend it every year as a way to see each other and do something different from work, school, and sports.
At this festival people gather the two weekends leading up to Halloween on both Friday and Saturday night to look at the jack-o-lanterns the others in the area created for display. That’s what makes this spectacle so exciting and family oriented. It’s cute and family-inclusive because the locals create the scary, silly, or cute carvings within the pumpkins! All these carvings have this unique touch, almost like you can feel the joy and family fun infused within them during the creation of each jack-o-lantern.
It’s a feeling challenged by none, and I don’t think I will ever forget it. My senses explode with the sensations embedded deep in my memory: the smell of the food, the taste of hot apple cider, the sound of Halloween music and people laughing or talking.
Going back each year allows me to relieve the beautiful experience with the people I love most in this world, my family. It stimulates a longing for kindredness and home that I couldn’t even begin to try and describe. It’s like coming home and seeing or feeling the things you’ve overlooked before you left. That feeling, an almost distant memory that makes your heart long for home, is what makes me travel home every year. And it’s not the only tradition I make exceptions for, my family has many more to get us involved and come back home.
One that’s particularly relevant to upcoming holidays is a Christmas tradition, and also a Thanksgiving one. To explain further, this tradition has an unchanging day that allows us to prepare far ahead of time. Held the Saturday night immediately following Thanksgiving Day, we all go Christmas tree shopping. But this is no ordinary tree picking tradition.
It all starts around 4:00-6:00 pm when my mother, father, sister, brother and grandma all meet at my house. We pick out either an elf hat, a Santa hat, or reindeer antlers to wear the entire night. Now, as kids it was fun to dress up to match whatever head-wear we chose, but nowadays, we dress nice in regular clothes with our hats, and I will explain why. Not only do we go get a Christmas tree, but we also go to our local Starbucks. Oh yes, the one everyone in our small town goes to, and we go inside for everyone to see.
At first this might sound funny or fun, but it’s almost always too embarrassing to go through with. However, it’s being with my goofy family and being able to be myself that ends up making it fun in the end. These are the moments that allow us to become secure in our own skin and makes us proud to be ourselves. The challenges we face create the framework of our character. Spending that time with my family has allowed me to both grow as a person, and at the same time stay incredibly close with my family. Even when we were on the outs, it’s what brought us back together.
These traditions have been in my family for so many years I can’t even remember the first time they started. However, to the best of my recollection, I have only missed two or three times, and each of those times I truly wished I had gone. It left me feeling awful, like I may have broken tradition and let my family down. I was so emotionally unchecked and let my loyalties lie elsewhere, which just caused me pain in the end. Looking back now though, I’m glad I made the decisions I did, because it helps me cherish those moments a little more every year.
I believe that we all need to set aside time for family and the traditions they hold dear. Being with people who truly care for you and know the real you brings a sense of grounding and stability to the ever-so chaotic lifestyles we live, juggling so many things at once. And so my advice to you is simple. Spend time with your family and put traditions first, because in the end, you won’t regret it.