Family traditions mean so much more to your child than just family fun. These traditions help to create a sense of self, define who they are, and form deep connections with their family and their roots. They provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world. Tune in for more on this and also for some great holiday tradition ideas from fellow listeners!
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Today’s kind of a cool day because I am celebrating my one year of podcasting. It has been fun, and crazy, and a ton of work, and I’ve loved it. I have so many things I am excited to talk to you about in the new year, I have so many things to share with you, so just Thank you for being here and I’ll jump right in…
Traditions. Some of the things that make life fun! Don’t they? When you look back on your childhood, the things you remember most are probably the repeated traditions. However small or maybe even somewhat silly they were, they mean more to you and your memories and creating who you are than you probably even know.
I like this definition of traditions that I found, from an author Milo Shannon-Thornberrry: Traditions are “celebrations [that] are ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”
I feel like there is a lot packed into that definition and that is kind of what inspired me to want to look further into traditions and find out how, exactly, they are so important to us and our development.
Don’t you love reminiscing on the "ritualized interruptions" of your daily life? The constants. The things you could look forward to and expect every year. They meant something to you. They tied you to something larger than yourself. They happened and continued to happen every year, every holiday. Holidays are such an integral part of our culture. These special days form the core of our family’s treasured memories.
It was so important to us, more than we even know, to have these traditions to look forward to, but they also established a foundation for family values and served as a special bonding experience.
Traditions can provide families with a sense of identity and belonging. They can inspire positive feelings and wonderful memories that family members can share. Family traditions also can provide a sense of continuity across generations. They are a way of transferring the family's values, history, and culture from one generation to the next.
Have you ever thought about family traditions and how they may have benefitted you? The ones you grew up with and the ones you’ve created in your own little family? They not only bond us and give us a sense of belonging, but they also create in us a sense of security. Traditions are meant to last, and events that come back around make people feel rooted and safe in something. No matter what is going on in the world, family members can count on their yearly traditions to assure them that they still have what is most important: each other and a sense of self.
And another thing that’s really cool is that family traditions can help with our stress. Research has found that family rituals and routines can buffer these negative effects of stress, leading to better medical and psychological health. Having a healthy family with a focus on family tradition is especially crucial during tough transition periods, such as adolescence. Having this family tie and these traditions to look forward to can actually help our kids, especially our teenagers, as they go through some rough patches in their life. So gathering as a family and sharing beliefs is not just about fun. It also allows for critical psychological development.
And remember, children love routine, as I seem to talk about quite often, and consistency, and a family tradition provides this year after year.
In my family, we have a lot of traditions. And some of them I don’t even realize are traditions until one of my kids shouts out: “It’s tradition!” And so I keep doing those traditions because my kids love them. But I have come to learn that it is those very traditions, those “ritualized interruptions”, that are helping my children so much psychologically, with their sense of self, feeling like they have something they belong to, and also have a sense of security.
When we decide to incorporate some family traditions, whether they be from when we were young or new ones that we want to begin, we are in prime memory-making territory with our children. When these special days come--Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and any other holiday, we have the perfect chance to celebrate what we value in a whimsical, memorable way. Even when it’s hard, even when nothing seems to go right, we keep at it, we repeat the traditions yearly, and the family knows, remembers, learns again... that this is valuable to us.
But with our very limited time, we must be strategic in celebrating. There are so many super-fun traditions for holidays (don’t go do a Google search, you will just get completely overwhelmed). I’m hoping that you already have a few family traditions that you do each year, but I ask that you be open-minded in case you hear something today that you would like to start incorporating into your family’s holiday routine. And I also encourage you to take a step back and look at the traditions that you do and make sure that you are spending time on the traditions and rituals that strengthen your family. Those are the ones that deserve the bulk of our time and energy this holiday season.
Not only is it important to be open to trying things, but also being open to scrapping them if they don't work. If you schedule a visit to see the lights display at the zoo thinking it could become a fun tradition, but it turns out to be a miserable experience (maybe the weather doesn't cooperate or your child's allergies kick in), it's okay to throw out the idea and do something different next year. You don't want to repeat an activity over and over just because it sounds good. The goal of a family tradition is that everyone has fun and looks forward to repeating it year after year.
So, take some time to plan and strategize. Things will go much more smoothly if you do. Ask yourself, right now, in my family, with the kids the ages they are, how can we honor this holiday? What needs to go? To pause? To be set aside temporarily to focus on what matters most?
Quite a few of you wrote to me about your family traditions, and I wanted to share some of the ones I thought you might want to hear in case you want to try to start a new tradition this year.
Beth wraps up all her holiday-themed picture books, then the family unwraps and reads one each day. I am a big fan of reading together as a family so this is such a great idea!
Debbi’s family chooses a family each year, who might be in need or has had a rough year, and they do the 12 Days of Christmas for that family–complete with knocking and running and trying not to get caught by the end of the 12 days when the family they are surprising is on the lookout for them! This is a great way to bring some service into your holiday.
Sarah’s family goes caroling each year in their neighborhood. They mean to do it as a service, but usually end up getting more out of it than the neighbors because they come home stuffed with goodies people have shared with them. In a world where we have been losing connections with others, this is such a great way to try to reconnect.
Tracy has her family help organize a big dinner for the homeless shelter in their city. She invites other families to contribute and participate in it, too.
Shana does a holiday Bucket List with her kids so that they don’t forget all the miscellaneous things they wanted to do together during the holiday break. They write out the days in December, and fill it with different activities—whatever they choose to do that year. It might include making cookies to take to Dad at work, neighborhood caroling, inviting a widow or widower over for dinner, and driving to see Christmas lights. A bucket list is a good way to let traditions grow with you and make sure you don’t forget anything. It’s also kind of fun to let others in the family share their ideas of things they would like to do.
I have heard of this before and was glad to be reminded of it, but Christine has simplified her family's gift-giving to four gifts: something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read. She has everything done before Dec. 1st so she can spend the entire month focusing on family and traditions without that crazy holiday rush feeling. So smart. I love it! I wish I could get my act together and do that one year.
Paige invites friends over to have a picnic by the Christmas tree. And they have sleepovers by the Christmas tree each year, too.
Hannah’s family makes sure they carve out time to make video calls with their relatives during the holidays. They call family members who may not have been able to travel for the holidays or are stationed out of state or overseas due to military commitments. It gives them a chance to stay connected as a family, even if they physically can’t be together for the holiday, and it helps their relatives keep that lonely feeling at bay.
My family and I go get each other presents from the dollar store each year. When I was a single mom, this was a life- saver, but now it’s just so fun, we keep on doing it. It’s fun because we have a whole store to shop in without having to worry about the price, right? And you can find some real treasures there. And it keeps everyone’s presents really simple. It’s amazing how excited we are to give our little dollar gifts to each other. It’s caused us to get creative and to get into the spirit of giving more than spending lots of money on fancy presents.
But traditions don’t need to always revolve around holidays. You can create non-holiday rituals with your family that are unique to you. Apple picking every fall or renting a vacation home every summer.
Maybe you want to start some traditions around each family member’s birthday. It might be as ordinary as baking a special cake that is the birthday person's personal favorite or going to dinner at their favorite restaurant. It may also be something funny or an inside family joke that becomes a tradition on everyone's birthday.
You probably have so many traditions already going that you didn’t even realize were traditions because it becomes such a routine. But these are the things I’m talking about. These are the things that help our children connect with their family.
The important thing is that you have a tradition or two or twenty. (Okay maybe not twenty, you might not remember them all.) But I hope you feel inspired to create special memories with your family this holiday season and beyond. Be open to starting something new. Your child will grow in their feelings of safety, love, and connection. And that’s what it’s all about.
I’m going to sign off for a time to enjoy the holidays with my family and get some of my own new traditions going after hearing all of your awesome ideas. I will be back first thing in the new year with another year of great parenting tips and tricks, educational and relationship advice, and of course a lot of great mommy strengthening stuff.
I love all my listeners. You all are wonderful. I appreciate you and your support and I thank you for listening!
So just remember: Family traditions help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.
Thanks so much for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.