Along with more fragmented American life styles has come an increasing need, claims Philadelphia writer Susan Lieberman, for families and individuals to create their own traditions.
"In a chaotic world in which change is the order of the day, tradition is a ballast, a comfortable and steady marker through the years. It punctuates time, like commas and periods, and makes us pause to order the contents of our lives.
"For a lot of us," she says, "the tradition wasn't there or doesn't work. When that happens you should consciously and creatively create traditions."
To get people started on thinking about customizing their celebrations, Lieberman collected dozens of ideas based on interviews with about 100 families. The resulting compilation, Let's Celebrate (Putnam, $8.95), ranges from ways to more meaningfully mark religious holidays to a vignette of one family's "Sin Night." Another family has created their own ritual in a specially made "family cup" (inscribed with "The Kunkels Celebrate Life"), which is passed -- with appropriate toasts -- between participants at all celebrations, from baptisms to marriages.
Lieberman's ideas for making Thanksgiving more celebratory?
"Reach out and invite anyone. Anyone. A foreign student, maybe. One Thanksgiving, we invited some political refugees. My sister-in-law invited a friend whose husband had just walked out on her.
"This year I've invited everybody to come after 10 and make the dinner with me. We've invited 22 this year -- we're new in Philadelphia and we don't know many people. I purposely invited other unplanted people like us.
"We play charades after Thanksgiving dinner. Even though people might complain and resist being organized, it's so much fun. We play for about an hour-and-a-half and then walk around the block."
A friend of Lieberman's has "everybody make a Christmas ornament before they're fed. Since the Christmas tree isn't up, they hang it on the chandelier."
And that "Sin Night"? One couple interviewed by Lieberman wanted an antidote to their ordinarily highly organized routines. "To get rid of their anxieties," they came up with the idea of one night for everyone -- both children and adults -- to let down their hair.
Family members are allowed to dispense with virtually every rule "except those which preserve human life and the physical integrity of the building."