“Traditions touch us, they connect us, and they expand us.” Rita Barreto Craig

Thinking about the past six decades of Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions, I’ve discovered one act, one attitude, one acceptance that sets the foundation for all expectations, executions, and events.

The Pivot.

To implement the Pivot for the holidays, we must be willing “to adapt or improve by adjusting or modifying something” as it relates to hard-wired, can’t be changed, we’ve done it this way for generations traditions.

My mother first employed the Pivot with grace and flexibility. She had four married children in three states who were being fruitful and multiplying. Coming home for Thanksgiving and Christmas was a challenge for all. She charged us to find a time to gather that accommodated jobs and children’s schedules. After a few years of oddball dates, we landed on celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas over the Thanksgiving four day weekend. This arrangement was compatible with all our in-law traditions and provided more Christmas options for everyone. We took turns hosting in our home cities with our own unique hospitality flairs. It worked. For a season.

Pivots are often unexpected. I hosted the family Christmas just weeks after we laid our father to rest on a solemn Thanksgiving. Food and gift exchange traditions continued, but the absence of him reading the scriptures about the birth of Jesus was an emotional vacuum. We tried something different. It wasn’t the same. With an expanding third generation, families moving farther away, and my mother’s declining health, the difficult Pivot to bid farewell to Thanksgiving/Christmas ended a long tradition but opened the door to endless possibilities of new traditions for each family. Now my siblings and I exchange pictures on our phones throughout the day on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Some of my mother’s Christmas traditions are still alive in my family like Christmas Eve pajamas. Her reason was to replace faded and worn pajamas with fresh sets for Christmas morning photos. Pajamas for my boys started with my mother-in-law sewing adorable flannel tops and bottoms when they were babies. The Pivot came when they preferred T-shirts and athletic shorts. They are 35 and 33 and still receive Christmas Eve pajama pants or shorts and T-shirts. One year the T-shirts were purchased from favorite places my husband and I had visited on Maui. Last year the T-shirts reflected our love of dogs and honored the two that had passed months earlier. And a few years ago, I gave them Star Wars character onesies which they wore the next day to the theater to watch the current Star Wars movie.

Movies, game night, fondue, loaded stockings, and watching White Christmas while decorating the tree have been some of our Christmas traditions for decades. Last year we added giving favorite books to each other. We also gathered around the kitchen table to take blood type tests. Weird, yes. But now we know. The Pivot can be random.

For several years we took the boys to a restaurant on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve involved a feast and presents with my husband’s large family, so a nice Christmas Day meal at a restaurant was a treat. For all four of us. One of the best and most memorable Pivots happened when we returned from a trip to New York City on Christmas Day. We assumed the restaurants that had been opened in years past were waiting to serve us. They were not. We were starving. We tromped into a gas station store and grabbed frozen pizza, chips, salsa, and fresh, hot taquitos for our Christmas Day dinner. It was awesome.

Holiday traditions are wonderful, joyful, and comfortable. Or exhausting, time-consuming, and meaningless. Sometimes the Pivot saves time, energy, money, or sanity. Sometimes the Pivot allows us to disregard mandatory traditions in order to meet new needs of our loved ones. I now adapt meals for a pescatarian diet. My husband and I have been alone a few times on these days so our sons have the guilt-free freedom to celebrate with others. (Two years ago we left them to meet friends in Florida for Thanksgiving. They survived.)

I love holiday traditions. Old and new. Holy and silly. Epic and simple. Healthy and fattening. And I appreciate the Pivots. I agree with my mother: We do whatever it takes to be together.

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as . . . as a fiddler on the roof.” Tevye – Fiddler on the Roof