Creating Family Traditions

Family tradition is defined as an aggregate of attitudes, ideas, ideals, and environment which a person inherits from his/her parents and ancestors. Family traditions are models, examples, and elements of teaching.

Families traditions help create a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging. They also create a feeling of safety and security within the family by providing a predictable and familiar experience to look forward to. It helps unite each family member; which gives everyone a stronger sense of belonging and stronger family ties.

Children, in particular, need something to look forward to as it gives them a sense of assurance. Traditions provide the parents an opportunity to teach principles, family values, and a commitment to God. In today's world, family bonds are often weakened by busy lifestyles, and like most living things when neglected, they tend to wither and eventually die. It is important, however, to maintain a balance; too many traditions dilute the value of each; too few and the family has trouble staying unified.

Many times traditions are started intentionally. For example, with Christmas becoming so commercialized, many children don't understand its real meaning. Therefore, many families create traditions of volunteering as a family at homeless shelters to help serve food to other families. You can create many traditions to celebrate Christmas and enhance its true meaning for your family.

When we weave ceremonies, celebrations, and traditions throughout our children's days, we give them a feeling of predictability, a comforting connection with home, and a sense of family. Intimate family celebrations help us slow down; we come fully into the present moment and escape the frenzy of the world "out there."

Practical Ideas

Sit down with your family and choose traditions that include everyone. Decide what activities will be included and how many to start. Like most new things, your ideas may have to be modified from time to time, but that is part of the process.

If schedules allow, pick one evening a week to have dinner together and take turns choosing the topic to talk about. If you can't have family dinners once a week, then schedule it as often as you can. However, this is something everyone has to make as a top priority; if not, family time will get pushed aside. You'll find that everyone has their own agenda and is too busy with other things to sit down for a family meal.

For birthdays, each family member could choose his or her favorite menu and then everyone help prepare it. The birthday person could decide what part of the meal they want to help prepare. Then they would get sit at the dinner table and be served by the rest of the family.

Have a pumpkin carving contest at Halloween! It may be messy but it's a lot of fun and well worth it.

Have the children write letters to Santa and place them in their stockings. Write letters in reply from Santa telling them how well they behaved during the year.

Have a taco or pizza night, or whatever night the family decides. You may have to rotate as each family member may have a different preference.

At Christmas, make special ornaments and take turns decorating the tree.
Some traditions may have to change as your children grow up, but at least your family will have traditions to change.

Remember your goal. You want to create traditions that strengthen family ties and bring your family closer together and to God. Hopefully some of the traditions you create for your children will be passed on to their children, and continue for many generations.

Pumpkin Carving Contest

Dr. Coady, a member of the Faculty of the Department of Family Relations and Human Development at The Ohio State University, says she has met many children over the years raised with meaningful traditions who seem to have a sense of spirituality and wonder, a connection with nature, and a strong relationship with their families. Her guess is that many of their childhood traditions will live on in future generations.

Traditions are also very important to families with young children. Once they become parents, they want to establish their own traditions and perhaps break away from the traditions established by the older generations. For example, many of them want to start celebrating Christmas in their own homes, rather than traveling to their parents' homes.

The early years of marriage is also when couples are sorting through the traditions that each brings from their own childhood. Couples must decide what traditions they want to include in their own family and what new traditions to add.

Traditions are important, because they are built-in family time. Children, especially younger children, need a lot of one-on-one time with their parents, so family traditions become a very important part of their lives.

The mobility of the family can change things. It's important for people not to hang on to traditions that cause them more grief than it's worth. Sometimes you have to let traditions go and then make new ones, or at least adapt the old ones to new situations.

Women seem to be designated as the "kin keepers" — they send the cards and buy the presents. Also, we've found that most traditions revolve around food, so that may be why they are the ones who are keeping these traditions alive.

Traditions are worth preserving. It's easy to let go when you are busy, but they are worth the effort. People should at least try to preserve some aspects of their traditions even if it's not possible to go through the entire ritual. If people start new traditions, they should start out slowly with a simple activity. Then perhaps each year they can embellish on it. It will become something that everyone looks forward to.

As Christian parents, we should create traditions that are biblically based first. Christian parents have a responsibility to instill in their children a love for God and a respect for His word.

Beat the midwinter blues. Don't forget those holidays that get you through to spring--and brighten up the down period between Christmas and the warmer weather. Have a family Valentine's Dinner--lots of red candles, lacy doilies, little white lights wrapped around the room, and heart-shaped food. Even President's Day is an opportunity to come together as a family. You might talk about what makes a good leader, read stories about Washington and Lincoln, and say what each of you would do to make the world a better place if you were President.

Make ordinary days special. Declare the first Friday of each month a Good Luck Day in your family. Finding a ladybug in the house means magic is on the way. With very young children, days of the week can have enchanting names, Magic Monday, Totally Terrific Tuesday, Wondrous Wednesday--and so on. Create Sibling Day. Pick a Saturday during the year when children can make gifts for each other and celebrate what's special about their sister or brother.

Sit at a special table. As a family, create a special table, with a different theme for each family dinner. A picnic, beach, forest, or favorite movie are just a few examples.

Create family holidays. Celebrate the day you moved into your home, your cat's birthday, the day your grandparents became American citizens. A family I know takes their children out of school each year on the day they were engaged to mark the special event. They do something together, such as hike up a mountain or go to the beach, and give thanks for Mom and Dad's beautiful relationship.

Applaud the growth process. Give a toast, write a poem, or create a special ceremony to acknowledge the life stages of those you love--a baby's first step, the first night without a diaper, the first day of first grade, the first library card, becoming a teenager, getting a driver's license.

Mark an accomplishment or an event. Celebrate a butterfly sighting or geese flying south, a fresh snowfall, a field goal, a part in a play, a lost object found, a new haircut, Picture Day at school. A toddler who lives on our street cherishes the simple ritual of turning on the vacuum cleaner for his mom, then pushing the button that magically "eats" the cord when she is done.

Turn any day into Appreciation Day. Ask each member of your family to buy, make, or find a small trinket for every other family member. The gift symbolizes why you appreciate the other person and what makes him or her special. Find a lovely seashell for a family member whose beauty you want to acknowledge. Or a kite, which could symbolize how a family member makes you feel you can reach new heights. Then invite everyone to say a few words of appreciation about each person as you present the gifts.

Start a new family tradition right at home. On Valentine's Day, have family members make homemade "Guess Who" Valentine's cards for one another. For Christmas or Hanukkah, do a secret gift exchange to emphasize the giving, not the getting. One gift for each person, and that's all. Celebrate half-birthdays with a walk in the woods or somewhere special to watch the sunset. On every first Sunday of the month, do a family charity project.

You can celebrate life with your children with a "Just Because" Cake. Use a favorite family recipe or a recipe from a time-honored cookbook and invite your children to give reasons why you're making a "Just Because" cake. "Just because...I love you." Or "Just because...today is a gift and we are together." You can make a "Just Because" cake and blow out the candles just because your family wants to celebrate being alive!

A cozy bedtime ritual is the perfect way to bookend the day. Try snuggling up with your children to give them that important hug before going to sleep. You can use this time to chat, relax, read out loud, and then share with your children your favorite nighttime prayer. It can be as simple as "Thank You, God, for this day." Make those six words a routine that can last your children's lifetime.

Make your holidays more meaningful by going away on a family trip. By leaving the familiar, you learn to refresh holiday times. You can avoid the commercialization of December, for example, by getting away to a simpler place. Invite a family member who lives alone to go with you, which shows your children what's really important.

Have one very special meal every week. It could be Friday evening, Saturday brunch, or Sunday lunch but be consistent. Have each family member help make a special dish that you don't have time to make on the other days of the week. Use cloth napkins, a table cloth, a floral arrangement, and your best dishes. During the meal, invite family members to share something that happened during the past week that they are grateful for.

Step outside for a few minutes every night for one month to follow the moon. Begin when there's a new moon. Ask your children to find it in the sky. Then say a simple phrase of renewal--"Like the moon, we each have a chance to be reborn each month. One day at a time, we grow stronger and stronger." Then pray and ask God to help you reflect His love and the love of your family, just as the moon reflects the sun's light. By the time you witness the full moon, you all will feel a sense of revitalization.