by Whitney Ireland
It’s almost October and ads for Halloween costumes and decorations seem to be popping up everywhere. Soon children will be running from house to house dressed up as ghosts, ninjas, princesses, pirates and more as they fill their pillow cases with candy. Then it will be Thanksgiving with a turkey feast and a renewed sense or gratitude. Almost as soon as we’ve cleared away the dishes from our thanksgiving feast we’ll be rushing out to find Christmas gifts for our family and friends, then waiting with anticipation as the gifts are opened Christmas day. Just one week after Christmas it will be New Year’s with New Year’s resolutions and staying up until midnight to welcome the new year. The holiday season is quickly approaching, and with each holiday comes an array of traditions that vary from family to family.
Usually when we think of traditions we think of the big ones, such as naming things we’re grateful for before Thanksgiving dinner, or reminiscing about the past year on New Year’s Eve. However, traditions aren’t simply limited to yearly events and don’t have to be connected to a holiday or celebration. One definition of a tradition is “a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time.” A tradition is simply a family, group, or society’s way of doing something, and all of us have family traditions that we may not even think of as traditions.
Family traditions can be daily, weekly, yearly, or performed at any interval in between. Family dinners where everyone eats together and talks about their day, or bedtime routines where everyone gets ready for bed and dad reads a bedtime story, are good example of daily traditions that can strengthen families and increase the feelings of closeness between family members. Weekly traditions could include a weekly movie night, special Saturday morning breakfast or going to church together as a family on Sunday. These tend to be things the family can look forward to and expect each week. Yearly traditions can range from an annual spring break trip to visit grandma and grandpa to a camping trip each summer or to our beloved holiday traditions.
Family traditions are much more than just fun or quirky things that we do as a family. They add to our sense of family unity and the connection between family members and our sense of family identity. Most family traditions center around doing things together and spending time together. Others focus on creating positive shared memories together. One tradition my family had growing up was bursting through a wrapping paper barrier on Christmas morning. My parents would stretch wrapping across the doorway to our living room to prevent any peaking, but in order to get to our presents when it was time for the festivities to begin, we would have to burst through the paper. My siblings then became not just people that I lived with and shared parents will, but also the people I broke through a wall of wrapping paper with on Christmas morning. Traditions also help us identify ourselves and a family. A child may think, we’re an athletic, outdoorsy, or artsy family because of the family traditions that family has, and the things they do together.
Another benefit of family traditions is the sense of stability that they can impart. Many children transition through big changes in their childhood such as moving to another school or state. The child’s whole surroundings and friends may have changed, but many children and parents too, find comfort in family dinners, or other traditions that stay the same.
Some traditions help family members cope with loss or trauma. When a loved one is lost traditions such as funerals or memorial services help family members to express their grief in positive ways. Setting aside time to later visit the grave site as a family also help children recognize that loved ones may be gone, but they are not forgotten. Even though a child’s life may be turned upside down by grief or trauma, he can find comfort in familiar traditions that continue to go on even though life may have changed in a major way.
It’s never too late to start a new family tradition or two, especially one that will help bring your family closer together. Start simple; try repurposing part of your routine or repeating something that went well in the past. Maybe your family dinners have become more of a pit stop where everyone eats and leaves rather than staying a little longer and reconnecting with one another. Try using conversation starters or trivia questions. You can also try repeating a family activity that went well in the past. Maybe a couple months ago part of the family went on a Saturday morning bike ride that went really well and was a lot of fun. Try repeating that activity, monthly or weekly, and inviting the rest of the family to participate.
When creating new family traditions, or maintaining old ones it is important to be consistent. A family tradition that only happens once or twice is a good idea, and a fun memory, but not much of a family tradition. Consistency may be difficult especially when getting started, but a little tenacity and ingenuity can help create a tradition that will last a lifetime.
Most importantly have fun. Traditions that strengthen families usually involve good feelings and good memories. You may try to start a tradition that just doesn’t work for your family, be flexible, consider adapting or replacing it to better meet the needs of your family.