How I've Learned To Make My Own Life-Improving (& Affordable) Traditions
Every single Christmas, my mom’s side of the family gets together at the house of a rotating family member and has the same meal: spaghetti and roast “beast.” (It’s just roast beef. What can I say, we love the Grinch.) Someone always brings gooey butter cake from our favorite St. Louis bakery, even if they have to lug it on and off a plane. There is always a Honeybaked ham to be consumed at lunchtime at some point. There are always boxes and boxes of chocolate chip cookies and mint melts from Crate & Barrel, of all places. The children always exchange presents, and the adults always sit around to watch.
I say all this not to make it seem like my family is remarkable in any way — on the contrary, we’re simply a regular Midwestern extended family whose traditions are as weird and insignificant as anyone else’s. And I love them because they’re ours. Even though some things have changed over the years — the adults used to do a gift exchange, we have to make a meat-free sauce for my cousin who’s vegan now, etc. — there’s something nice about the fact that the basic outline of our holiday tradition has remained the same, even if it looks a bit different every year as “the cousins” all grow up.
I’ve always loved my family traditions, and I find myself yearning to hold onto them more tightly with every year I get older. I also know I’m lucky to have an immediate and extended family I genuinely enjoy spending time with. Holiday traditions are comforting because, even if I suck and don’t do a good job keeping in touch otherwise (something I always need to work on), I know I’ll for sure see these people for at least several days in a row each year.
Friends, though, are a different story. It takes concerted effort to keep up a friendship when whatever used to bring you together organically is no longer a part of your life. For instance, I lived with two of my best friends for three years up until this past May. It used to take no effort to spend time together because, eventually, we’d all be in the living room at the same time, or decide to cook dinner together when we had an overlapping night off. Now, they both live at least 40 minutes away from me on the subway. One of us has to actively reach out to instigate a hang-out session if we want to see each other.
Which is why I (and many of my friends) enjoy having other traditions, some annual, and some much more frequent. They give everyone a sense of semi-obligation, a reminder when it’s been a while and we’re much in need of some bonding time. They can also be an easy way to schedule a regular time to see each other, especially since many of us (okay, me) grow more and more bound to the idea of always planning ahead. These are just a few of the affordable traditions I’ve implemented (or adopted/stolen) among those closest to me.
Monday night dinner & TV. Appointment television is the biggest reason I miss cable, aside from 24/7 access to HGTV content. What has now been deemed “TV club” actually started when I began hosting people every Monday night to watch The Bachelor/ette. I would make enough dinner to feed a bunch of people and have everyone bring some wine or a snack to share while we half-watched/half-talked-over that silly little show. I now live with my boyfriend, Peter (a converted Bachelor Nation fan, thankyouverymuch), and we still do this — and it’s even better because he also pitches in with the cooking. Now that we’re in between seasons, we do the same thing, but with Outlander. It’s like a book club, except a little more casual and no one has to lie.
Making occasions out of pie. I’ve written about my baking hobby before, and it’s still going strong. I make pies for other occasions, like our Monday night dinners and holiday celebrations, but I also occasionally throw a little shindig where the pie is the main event. Just because. Maybe it’s my way of bribing my friends to come to my apartment, but hey, it works. If you’re looking for a way to invite people over or bond with new friends, I’d sincerely encourage anyone to start a monthly-or-so tradition of making an event out of a simple dish (more food always seems to show up, too). You could even get ~fancy~ and turn it into a little friendly baking competition among friends.
“Friendsmas” & other friend-centric holiday celebrations. Peter and his college friends get full credit for this one because they started it long before I came on the scene. I simply inserted myself into what was already an awesome tradition of getting together with a bunch of friends for secular/potluck-centric holiday parties. Last year, Peter hosted Friendsgiving and Freaster, and this year we’re hosting Friendsmas in our new apartment. The parties start in the early afternoon, and people trickle in and out throughout the day — AKA my favorite way to entertain. It can get kind of expensive when you’re the host and therefore the one supplying the turkey, ham, or pot roast, but there is always a ton of leftover food.
An annual weekend trip to New Hampshire. Yet another fully adopted tradition on my end. My best friend from college, Alice, has a family lake house in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and I’ve been meeting her and some other friends there for a long weekend every summer for the past six years. Even if I don’t see Alice many times throughout the year now that we live in different cities, our NH weekend is a guaranteed time that I’ll get to see her. It’s always several days of blueberry picking, tubing, swimming, reading, building fires, making s’mores, and playing board games. We’ve had to rent a car the past few years to meet her up there (since she doesn’t live in NYC), but since the cost is usually split between three or four people, it’s not terribly expensive. It is always one of my favorite weekends with some of my favorite people, and something I know I’m going to be budgeting for every year.
Saturday morning bagels & a matinee movie. Yes, 4/5 of these traditions are pretty food-centric. I guess that’s just the way I was raised. I cannot tell you how much I love matinee movies (especially now that so many of the theaters in this city have implemented assigned-seat tickets and half the audience still doesn’t know what the fuck is going on). Matinees are always nearly empty and most here are half-price. Peter and I will get up earlyish on a Saturday, walk about 25 minutes to our favorite bagel shop, eat our bagels, and head over to the movie theater for a viewing around 10 or 11 AM. It’s also my favorite thing to do when I have a friend in town who doesn’t care about seeing the typical NYC tourist spots (a huge blessing tbh). It’s a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning and early afternoon for less than $20.
I love my homemade traditions and am always thinking of new ones to implement. It’s hard to keep in touch with even the best of friends sometimes, especially if they live in other cities. And while I’d love to have even more lavish traditions in the future, like an annual girls’ trip somewhere new, these little gatherings are an affordable way to keep growing my relationships. They still feel special to me, no matter how many times they happen.
Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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