Passing It On: The Importance of Family Traditions

Nothing says holiday time like… fill in the blank! The beauty of holiday traditions is that you can pick and choose among them, adopting the ones you love, rejecting the ones you don’t, and creating new rituals as you wish. Some families hew to cultural or religious traditions around the holidays they celebrate. Some enjoy repeating whatever their extended families have always done. Others manufacture new traditions that they hope will become treasured memories for their children. Most of us find that we do a combination of all three.

The point is not the tradition or the ritual or the practice itself, but the fact that you have them, and share them with your children. Here are some of the amazing benefits of family traditions, and how to get your kids in on the fun:

They bring you together as a family. 

No matter how you define “family,” the things you do together bind you closer in ways that may not seem obvious at the time. Let’s say that one year, you decide it’s a great idea to go for a hike on the day after Thanksgiving, as counterpoint to all the food-based indulgence and to take advantage of the waning days of autumn. Then maybe you do it again the next year… and so on. Boom: A tradition is born!

- Getting the kids involved:

Turn a local walk into a scavenger hunt (pretty leaves, rocks, sticks) or play “I spy” with the littlest kids. Older kids can research new local hiking trails routes to try.

They foster increased cultural awareness.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, they all come with some cultural rituals, from religious observances to special foods you prepare. The idea is not to “do” a holiday a certain way, but to share traditions and cultural mores with your children, teach them where traditions came from, and even think of ways to adapt some traditions to your lifestyle.

- Getting the kids involved:

Explain why you do certain things (like Italian families’ fish feasts on Christmas Eve, Jewish parents offering kids gelt for Hanukkah, or Southern families making black eyed peas on New Year’s Day). Look for age-appropriate books about holiday traditions, show your kids photos from your own childhood, or ask an older relative to share stories.

They create memories. 

It feels like this happens naturally, but think about it: The way we cement memories for ourselves and our children is by deliberately labeling those special moments, so that we’ll be sure to recall them in future years.

- Getting the kids involved:

Help kids create scrapbooks or journals to commemorate holiday events to save for the following year.

They allow for creativity. 

Who says what a “tradition” is? You do! Don’t want turkey on Thanksgiving? Make lasagna instead. Tell the kids that they can take turns choosing their favorite dinners for each night of Hanukkah. You can see what rituals you want to toss and which are worth keeping.

- Getting the kids involved:

Are you kidding? What kid doesn’t want to help come up with new traditions to go along with the old? Give them free (or free-ish) reign to come up with fun ideas they want to try, from leaving mystery notes in each others’ stockings on Christmas Eve to having ice cream for breakfast on the first day of winter break.

What are your family’s traditions? We’d love to hear what you’re doing for and with your kids this holiday season, whether it’s a lovingly recreated tradition from your past or a freshly created ritual all your own. Leave it in the comments below or share with us @newtonbabyrest!