The importance of family traditions and how to create them
Family traditions are, unfortunately, one of the great casualties of modern times. As families become more fragmented and disconnected, there is less time and opportunity to enjoy the simple traditions that were once a natural part of family life. Modern households often have a TV and/or computer in every room, so even a small ritual like all sitting down to watch a favorite program may just not happen any more.
Christmas should be a time for family traditions, but it’s not necessary to restrict traditions to the holiday season. Sometimes holiday festivities are a good way to kick start traditions that can become seasonal favorites or that can be incorporated into family life year round.
Twenty first century family life looks a lot different than it did fifty, or even twenty years ago. Parents’ hectic work schedules may mean that eating as a family, taking a family walk, or going on a day trip are sometimes impossible. Family vacations require military style planning to get everyone together and Christmas, once a holiday awash with loving, meaningful, family traditions, all too often involves a painful and complicated process of trying to balance which of two estranged parents gets the biggest slice of their kids’ time and attention over the holiday season.
Many of us remember and miss the little rituals that formed the basis of our own childhood, yet don’t see a way to fit them into a life that is so different from that of our parents when we were growing up.
Family traditions can be a way to reconnect and create a much needed sense of belonging, and for those no longer part of a “traditional” family set-up, setting traditions can be even more important. Traditions don’t have to be time-consuming either, although it’s worth taking a moment right now to think about the fact that spending time together is what family traditions are all about. If you can’t set aside at least a little time to create some meaningful traditions, you probably really need to re-assess your priorities.
We all tend to think of the holidays when we think tradition, and certainly holiday traditions are important, but there are many simple everyday ways to bring tradition into your family life. Something as simple as sitting down and eating a proper family meal together can become a daily or weekly tradition. Even takeout night, or sandwich night can become a tradition if you create a regular slot for it, surround it with little rituals and stick to it.
If you are going to serve sandwiches for dinner once a week because you’re too tired to cook, make an event of it. Set up a family sandwich bar, let the kids make their own, create a picnic area on the living room floor, lay out a favourite old blanket or quilt, play summery music (even if it’s the middle of winter and ten degrees below outside) and tell stories of your childhood summers or play campfire games.
A family games night can be a family tradition, so can going for an evening walk together, holding hands. So can baking cookies or chocolate cake together once a week and making a gingerbread house for the holidays. If you bake, great. If you don’t, fake it with frozen cookie dough (rolling and cutting is the fun bit after all) and pre-baked gingerbread (We all know it’s all about the decorating really).
Fitting traditions to your family.
There is no "one size fits all" solution to today’s increasingly complicated family situations. Don’t think that just because you’re a single mom, part-time dad, stepparent, foster family, blended family, same-sex couple or any variation on the “traditional” nuclear family, that traditions are not for you. Fit your traditions to your family situation and the people in it. If you only see your kids once a week, that in itself can be a tradition. Certainly you don’t have to miss out on seasonal and holiday traditions, even if you don’t always celebrate them on the exact right day.
In order to find traditions that fit your family you have to include everyone, and make it meaningful for every family member. This can be a particular challenge with large or blended families. Experiment to find activities that appeal to everyone, and where everyone can play a part. If family games night falls flat, change the games. If family meals, outings or vacations aren’t greeted with enthusiasm try to find out why. Involve every family member in trying to identify regular activities you would all enjoy, then work on building them into family traditions.
Creating new traditions.
New traditions may sound like a bit of a misnomer but all traditions have to start somewhere. Try a special meal or activity and see how it goes. If everyone loves it, schedule it again for next week/month/holiday. If no-one loves it, try something else.
If you’re struggling to find traditions it’s OK to borrow from religion (even if you’re not religious) or other cultures (even if you have no family ties to that culture). Look at other families. What do they do that you could learn from?
Starting a new family is a great time to start new traditions. Start early with your child, whether it’s reading a nightly bedtime story, or hanging the Christmas stockings. Just because the youngest member(s) of the family are too young to understand, doesn’t mean the tradition isn’t valuable.
Resurrecting old traditions.
Think back to your childhood. Did you love that first day at the beach each summer? Picking strawberries each spring at a local farm? Picking out a Halloween pumpkin or a Christmas tree? Flying your kite on windy fall days? Fishing by the river on a Sunday morning? Having a special breakfast weekend mornings?
If you came from a family where tradition wasn’t important, borrow from other people’s traditions. Read up on different traditions that have been popular at different times throughout history, in your own country and around the world. Be inspired by the old, but don’t be afraid to put a new twist on it if that suits your family.
Family traditions in five minute or less.
“I don’t have time for traditions. I barely have time for necessities.” This is a common attitude, but some would argue that if you want to raise a happy, secure family, tradition is a necessity. Consider the following five minute rituals. All can make a difference in your day and your children’s lives.
Walking to the mailbox together. Holding hands and talking about your day on the stroll home from the school bus stop. Drinking a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows after school. Saying grace before meals, or a prayer before bedtime. Five minute bedtime stories. A big cuddle just before lights out. A five minute “What was the best thing about your day?” discussion. Checking out the stars before bedtime. Listening to a favourite hymn or Christmas carol each evening in December. Making popcorn together. Saying “I love you”.
Turning “ordinary” activities into traditions.
Many of us have a great deal of routine and ritual in our everyday activities. There is a basis for creating traditions right there. If every time you go shopping with your kids, you stop for a muffin and hot chocolate at your favourite cafe, that can become a tradition. If every time you watch a family movie, you make popcorn together and snuggle down in an old quilt, that’s a tradition. If every time you drive to Grandma’s, you stop for a picnic and pick her some flowers, that’s a tradition.
Just because you’ve managed to fit traditions into your everyday life doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you ignore the holidays. Hanging stockings and putting cookies out for Santa, or having an Easter egg hunt can still be meaningful traditions, even though they’re far from exclusive to your family. The following are some holiday traditions that may or may not fit in with your beliefs, values, interests and family situation:
Buy extra food and toys to drop off at a shelter or charity.
Volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen.
Go to a church service.
Decorate your home.
Go to a parade.
Shop for holiday gifts at local craft fairs.
Make greeting cards or decorations.
Make holiday food.
Throw a holiday party.
Make themed scrap books or collages.
Do some holiday related arts and crafts.
Attend a holiday themed play or concert.
Build a snowman.
Traditions for teens.
Many parents will agree that the teenage years are the most troublesome and certainly a time when traditions can disappear in a puff of hormone laden smoke, but enjoying family rituals during the teen years can be the key to keeping your teen on track.
Embrace the changes. It can be heart-breaking to see that hanging the stockings and putting out the carrots for the reindeer are becoming a farce as everyone in the family stops believing in Santa. But traditions don’t have to be static and completely unchanging. Some traditions stay the same while some will need to adapt to the shifting priorities, beliefs and ideas within your family. Always be open to new traditions, and ready to adapt the old.
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