Holiday Traditions (by Kylie Popa)

November is officially here! Can you believe it? The great debate will soon begin: when is it an acceptable time to begin playing Christmas music? If we went by Hallmark’s standards, they already started their Christmas movie countdown two weeks ago! Wherever you stand on the side of the debate, I think we can all agree that November is the beginning of those many wonderful holiday traditions.

I love traditions. I love everything about them. And I may love them a little too much to the extent that last year, when some of those traditions had to look a tad different, it was a tough reality to swallow. However, what I realized is that traditions may change or look different from year to year, but it’s not necessarily about the action itself. Rather it is about the people you are with and the memories you are making.

My family has several traditions during the holiday season, whether it’s a classic movie we watch, a delicious family recipe we bake, a special service we partake in, a certain order we open and exchange gifts, and the list goes on! Each tradition is an opportunity — an opportunity to engage with others, to be present in the moment, and to spread the holiday cheer not necessarily through things, but through moments.

The next big Popa tradition on the calendar is a classic film we watch every year the night before Thanksgiving: Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Some parts of the movie are for more mature ears, but we’ve finally surpassed the need to have my dad fast forward through the scenes with super salty language! If you haven’t seen this hilarious and heartwarming classic with John Candy and Steve Martin, it’s the story of an unlikely pair of strangers who end up traveling together on a somewhat crazy adventure in an attempt to make it home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Two very different personalities sharing a plane, train, and automobile (among many other things!) is the recipe for some good laughs, but also a very endearing message. The Popa’s can be found dying laughing at all the same parts, quoting a few too many lines under our breaths, and most everyone (who stays awake!) tears up at the very last scene. I get chills just thinking about it now.

Planes, Train, and Automobiles is just a movie. Each year it’s the same and it doesn’t change, yet collectively, we all still find so much joy in that hour and 33 minutes together. Some years, not everyone is in town and we have a smaller viewing party. And who knows, one year, that movie might get swapped with another tradition. According to the dictionary, a “tradition” is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society. What are the beliefs and behaviors we are passing down in our families? Rather than just gifts and material possessions, what about passing down more meaningful and lasting things such as kindness to strangers, an emphasis on building community, a more sincere effort to spend quality time in our families, or an increased awareness to give out of poverty rather than surplus, much like the poor woman in this Sunday’s Gospel? When we view traditions as opportunities, we are given the chance to spread the Good News and God’s love in ways we’d never expect. So, as we enter into this holiday season, savor those moments and pass down the things that matter, for those are the traditions that truly last.