If I’ve learned one thing about celebrating Christmas without getting stressed and exhausted, it’s this: I must be willing to let it change from year to year. Because what’s meaningful will naturally evolve over time.

Traditions are wonderful, of course, especially when a family is young. Children look forward to things that come round just once a year, like an advent calendar, or a special cookie mom makes.

We grownups also have little rituals that help us connect with the season. Last week my husband put electric candles in all our windows – I think it’s his favorite part of Christmas. Tomorrow we’ll be attending the Barnstable Village Stroll, which always has a jolly, neighborly feeling. And I’ll probably spend some time this weekend writing a holiday letter to friends I don’t see often.

But if you’re like me, you may have the tendency to keep adding things to the pile of traditions without removing anything. Eventually it gets to be too much.  And when that happens, our traditions can become chores that keep us too busy to tune into the sweetness the season offers.

For many years we co-hosted a Christmas party with our friends Ben and Wendy. It was a musical party where friends were invited to bring the instruments they hadn’t played in years (mine was a dusty cello), and saw their way through some Christmas carols. Everyone loved it…but one year I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore.

For years I made homemade gifts for friends…chutneys, candy or soap. Then one year I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore either. I had to let go of some things to create space for new things to arise that better fit our current life.

Last year was a total departure from tradition for us. It was the first time the family could not all be home for Christmas. Alex was working at a restaurant in Washington D.C. and couldn’t get the time off. He had Christmas Day off,  but his housemates were all going to be gone. I don’t think he minded, being at the age when Christmas is irrelevant. But Mom minded.

So we packed up our car with a scraggley little clearance-sale Norfolk pine, some dinner fixings, and a handful of gifts, and drove down to D.C. on the 24th. (If this was a movie, we would have surprised him, but that seemed a bit risky.) We arrived in time to eat Christmas Eve dinner in his restaurant while he waited on us. Christmas day I did the mom thing in his college-boy kitchen, and the next day we drove home.

It was a far cry from a Hallmark holiday! But the right thing for the time. This year something different will happen. I’m not sure what.