In 2003, I enjoyed New Year’s Eve at a surf camp in Fiji.
While I’m still a horrible surfer, I inadvertently established a tradition that has brought me great pleasure: beginning the New Year in a new country.
It began in Nadi, Fiji. I was solo. Just me and a rag-tag collection of would-be travelers. As the hours to the New Year drew close, two Fijians scaled a palm tree, grabbed a few coconuts, mixed the coconut water with rum—and voila—it was party time!
The following year brought Edinburgh—along with heaps of Scots in kilts, toting their homemade whiskey for warmth. I was on Princes street, flanked by the old world and the new. (On one side was a medieval castle. On the other, a Baby Gap).
By the time I met Michelle, I was several countries into an established tradition, one that she could now be part of.
And with Portugal, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Sicily, La Paz, Barcelona, Tokyo, Singapore, and Maldives now under our belts, people rarely ask us what we’re doing for New Year’s. Instead, anyone who knows us simply begins with “So where are you two going this year?”
Indeed, traditions abound. Some develop accidentally. I have four friends from college, and we’ve managed to make one trek to Las Vegas every year (with rare exception) for the last 23 years. The question isn’t, “When will we see each other?” The question is “Which month will we be going to Vegas this year?”
Some traditions are cultural. My wife’s family gathers at the cemetery every year to clean their ancestors’ grave sites . . . to pay respect to those who are no longer with us, to honor them by making sure they are not forgotten.
Some traditions are religious. I was raised a Buddhist. Each year my parents would take my brother and me to the Vista Buddhist Temple’s Obon Festival. I’d marvel at the muscular Japanese men, wielding wooden mallets at mounds of rice resting atop a wood block. They’d pound the rice until it became pasty and began to resemble what would become mochi. (When my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her I wanted to be one of those guys . . . the guys who swing the wooden hammers.)
People enjoy traditions for all sorts of reasons: to celebrate child birth (the Red Egg and Ginger party comes to mind), to celebrate love (via Valentine’s Day or anniversaries), or to honor those who’ve served (Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day).
Many of our traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next. We grow up looking forward to these traditions, planning for them, knowing they are good for us, knowing they make us better.
What’s of note, though, is that you may certainly create your own traditions. I know some triathletes who do a birthday swim every year: 100 x 100 yards. That’s 10,000 yards (not a big deal for a swimmer, but it’s a fairly sizable swim set for most triathletes).
Every year my dad—a competitive and talented cyclist—rides twice his age. I remember accompanying him on his birthday ride when he turned 58. We’d gotten to mile 57, and I was thinking, “Okay. It’s almost time to turn around. And then only 58 miles to go.” But my dad, always eager to push himself, said we should ride a few more miles before turning around, just in case our route wasn’t measured correctly. I figure we rode at least 120 miles that day. (Last year my dad turned 70, which means he rode 140 miles . . . if not more . . . on a hot day in August.)
While habits are performed daily, or weekly, or monthly, traditions are different. They are over-arching annual goals that our habits help advance. A well-chosen tradition should make you better.
Consider creating a tradition this year. You’ll be glad you did.