The Good, Bad, and Sad: How My Family's Traditions Are Changing

How an illness in the family has changed the way I view my family's traditions.

The Good, Bad, and Sad: How My Family's Traditions Are Changing
Art by Tanya Leigh for Livingly

I have a small family — for the most part it's just me, my parents, and my older brother. What we lack in size, we make up for in strong family traditions. These traditions, like drinking Caesars (a Canadian Bloody Mary) on Christmas morning or playing a basket-shooting game with a rolled up napkin and trash can after dinner, have always meant a lot to me. They meant a lot to me as a kid, and they especially mean a lot to me now that I'm about to get married and create a family of my own.

After all, we all grow up with family traditions. They bring family members together and foster the bonds that connect them. Whether it's during the holidays or for a birthday, these traditions sometimes become mundane or second nature, but they exist for a reason. Even as families grow, evolve, and change, traditions are meant to be the constants that bring everyone back together. And in extreme cases, when there is a sudden or tragic change, you cherish those moments more than you ever have in the past.

Over the years, my family’s traditions have changed in many ways. We’ve added to the family, for starters. My brother got married seven years ago and I will be getting married in a few months. His wife and my fiancé have been part of the family for years, and it's been great having them bring their own traditions and personalities to our family. But not all change is as joyful as getting married — some change is unwelcome and unexpected. Some change, like finding out my father is sick with an incurable and irreversible disease, can really suck. Beyond the obvious shock and utter heartbreak that accompanies news like this, having a sick parent really amplifies every single aspect of your life. Every moment becomes more significant, more fragile, and in some cases, more temporary. And that's why my family's traditions mean more to me now than ever before. If anything, this situation has taught me that regardless of how traditions may change, the important part is that I spend time with my dad and my family, honoring the moments we have together.

This past Christmas, for example, I noticed how our traditions were already beginning to change. Being the youngest in the family, Christmas has always been my holiday. From picking out the perfect Christmas tree to decorating the staircase with a garland that's probably older than I am, I've always relished in the tiny details. This year though, everything looked so different. We didn't go get a tree until last minute and all they had were the ones that are spray painted to look like they're covered in snow (though it actually looked better than I thought, I must admit). We didn't even bother getting down all the boxes from the attic, and therefore there was no garland in sight. Sure, our house certainly had some Christmas cheer, but it was a far cry from my masterpieces of previous years. Normally this sort of offense on Christmas would cause an uproar from me, but it didn't even faze me. Not because I was sad or even apathetic, but because the tree or the garland really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The Good, Bad, and Sad: How My Family's Traditions Are Changing

Everything may have looked different, yet Christmas and our traditions still ultimately felt the same. Now understanding this, I've realized that sometimes you just have to do the best with what you have. Though it can sound disheartening — it's just life. Acts like decorating for Christmas are part of the tradition, but the true core of the tradition is us being together, especially through these times. It's the stability and consistency we need when everything else around us is so rapidly changing. 

Since finding out about my dad's illness, I've also learned to appreciate the good change as it comes. I'm getting married to my boyfriend of almost eight years and I already know it's going to be the best wedding ever. Our wedding has given my family something positive to look forward to. It's not just another Thanksgiving or Christmas, but rather an entirely new tradition that we'll be able to share together. Though my fiancé and I are tackling the planning ourselves, my father — along with our families — has been in our minds with almost every decision we've made. The wedding is undoubtedly for the two of us, but it's also just as much for them. It's for all of us. 

While I can't lie and say that I don't get nervous thinking about all the emotions I'll experience as my father walks me down the aisle or as we do our first dance, I also feel excited to share those moments and create new memories that will live on forever. No matter how life continues to change, he will always be a part of that day, and that's something I feel eternally grateful for.

As my fiancé and I continue to grow our lives together we too will have new traditions. Some will be from my family, some from his, and some will be all our own. But for now, I plan to cherish what I have with my family and to soak up every minute of it. I know things will change, but the love always remains the same. 

Pop Culture Editor at Livingly. You can reach me by email at and on Instagram @sydneyfvz