Traditions: Keying into the Heart of Your Family

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November 18, 2013

When I was just finishing second grade, I stumbled upon a large, hard cover Christmas book filled with poems, lyrics to carols and pictures. I set out to learn every lyric printed in that book so that, for once, I could sing along when the songs played in a few months. I won’t drag out the messy story of my youth but I’ll tell you I felt intensely lonely. When the holiday season rolled around that year, I wanted in on the traditions. To my little, eight-year-old self, those things that happened every year represented belonging, happiness, and stability.*

Cut to an undisclosed number of years later, people tease me, good naturedly of course, about my tradition obsession. We have traditions for everything from Friday night to Back-to-School. Each of my children has a theme song. We have a special “I love you” hand symbol. And an “I love you” word.  I recognize that it’s more than the average. But these moments are gifts of assurance from that lonely little girl still in me somewhere to my kids.

I also recognize that not every family needs a theme song or a Friday night routine. But, with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah launching us into the holiday season next week, consider what traditions you can start for your family. Here are a few considerations to take into account as you think about what your family might do.

Traditions in the Form of Everyday

Chances are you already have traditions that you don’t even think about. Are there things you do every year that you can highlight for your family? Do you always call a family member or send a gift to someone this time of year? Maybe you always switch to winter clothes after the first frost or let the kids splash in puddles after a rainstorm. Celebrating something you’ve always done keeps moments simple and organic.

Reinforce Core Values

Meaningful traditions stem from your core values as a family. Reflect on what you hold most important. How can you reinforce these things for your children? Going around a table to say what you are thankful for, traditional prayers as you light the menorah, a Christmas Eve service, they all reflect those ideals held dearest in your heart. And echo them for the younger generation.

Practical Traditions

Let’s be honest. There is a practical side all of this. What works for one family might not work for yours. Your traditions should be doable. I have a friend that does a different Christmas activity every day of December. She presents these in numbered envelopes to her kids on December first and they open one a night. What a wonderful idea. We could never pull it off in our home! But a couple nights a week we’ll pile into the car with hot chocolate and go check out neighborhood lights.

Being Open to New Traditions

Keep your eyes open. The best ideas come from what’s already happening around you. When my daughter was in kindergarten, they each made a clump of butter in a baby food jar. She wanted to do it again for our Thanksgiving meal. Have you ever made butter by hand? It takes a lot of shaking. Each member of the family passed the jar off to someone else until everyone had helped make the butter on our table.  We repeated the process the next year and all of the sudden, we had a new tradition. If you’re looking for some ideas, our site is full of them! Check out Spring and New Year’s Eve Traditions From Around the World. Or even International Holiday Food Traditions or Sweet Gifts and Traditions for Christmas Eve

It’s not just the kids that benefit from traditions. As we walk down the street looking at the same lights as last year or flash the “I love you” sign, the mother in me layers every memory of this until I’m looking at my babies from two, five, seven years ago. One day, they can look back and do the same. We will both know, with the strength of years of memories, that we belong, we are loved, and we always will be.

*To give my story the happy ending it needs, less than a month after I starting studying that book, my Dad started dating a kind-hearted elementary school teacher who’d always wanted kids. Two years later, they married. She taught me the Christmas carols. We still sing along with my kids today.

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