Family Traditions

The importance of family traditions and how to create them.

We all recollect certain moments and times of our childhood that we will cherish forever. Almost all of these memories in one form or another were a tradition. These family traditions are sadly one of the great casualties of modern times. As families have more time constraints due to careers, become focused on team sports, are more fragmented and disengaged, there is less time and opportunity to benefit from the traditions that were formerly a natural part of family life. The present households often has a TV and/or computer in every room, so even a small custom like all sitting down to eat dinner, doing homework together or playing a favorite family game may just not happen as often as it once did.

The holiday season once largely was a time for family traditions; however, it is not necessary to restrict traditions to just this time of the year. Sometimes holiday festivities are a good way to kick start a tradition that can become seasonal favorite or that can be incorporated into family life year round.

In the twenty first century, family life looks a lot different than it did fifty, twenty or even just ten years ago. Parents’ chaotic work schedules may mean that eating as a family, taking a family walk, or going on a day trip are sometimes impossible. Family vacations involve a military approach with planning just to get everyone together and the holiday season, once a season overflowing with adoring, meaningful, family traditions, all too often involves a painful and complex process of trying to balance which of two divided families gets their children when and for how long.

Many of us remember and miss the modest rituals that shaped the foundation of our own childhood, yet do not see feasible way to fit them into a life that is so dissimilar from the ones 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 do not have to be time-consuming efforts; it is worth taking a moment right now to reflect on the fact that spending time together is what family traditions are all about and the memories that will be made will be memories of a lifetime.

Everyday traditions

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, even if it is a weekly sit down, can become a tradition. A 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, make an event of it. Set up a family sandwich bar, let the children create their own, create a picnic area on the living room floor, lay out a favorite 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. So can baking cookies or chocolate cake together once a week or making a gingerbread house for the holidays.

Fitting traditions to your family

There is no “one size fits all” solution to today’s increasingly intricate family situations. Do not think that because you are a single parent, step parent, 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 style and diversity as well as the people in it. If you only see your children once a week, that in itself can be a tradition, certainly you do not miss out on seasonal traditions, even if you do not always celebrate them on the exact day.

To discover 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. Make it fun, experiment to discover 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, and then work on building them into family traditions.

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 was not practiced, borrow from others and create your own. 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

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, 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 favorite song each evening, 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 children, you stop for a muffin and hot chocolate at your favorite 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 is a tradition. If every time you drive to Grandma’s, you stop for a picnic and pick her some flowers, that is a tradition.

Holiday traditions

Hanging stockings and putting cookies out for Santa, or having an Easter egg hunt are meaningful traditions. 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, 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 do not 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.

Heather Oxenford – LifeSpan, School Age and Summer Camp Director

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