Create a Family Tradition!

A beautiful autumn day at Bidwell Park in Chico. Photo: Paula Beehner,

What are your fondest memories from childhood?  No doubt many of them are of your family’s traditions: helping Grandma bake her homemade pumpkin pie, the first time you won Monopoly on game night, emptying Christmas stockings on Christmas morning, and so on. Children adore family traditions. They’re the little things that bring your family closer, create cherished memories, help define your family’s sense of identity, and link the past with the present.

Unfortunately, in our modern, fast-paced world many family traditions have gone by the wayside. Sure, most of us still hold on to the “big” traditions – turkey on Thanksgiving, opening presents Christmas morning, celebrating on New Year’s Eve – but many of our uniquely simple traditions are being omitted from our kids’ lives. These days grandparents often don’t live nearby, and we’re too busy organizing our kids’ lives (school, practice, homework, playdates, parties, etc.) for simple traditions to spontaneously happen.

With a little effort you can bring back simple, stress-free traditions, or create new ones for your family to share. Consider some of the following ideas for creating traditions your children will look forward to each year!

1. Host a holiday slide show.

Put together a slide show of past holiday photos. Pop some popcorn, sit down with the whole family, and enjoy the show!  You’ll be surprised how much your kids love reminiscing about holidays-past.

2. Get into nature with an annual hike.

Kids love exploring nature, so start a tradition of hiking throughout the seasons. Try a fall hike focused on leaf collecting. Who can find the most different kinds of leaves, the largest leaf, or the most colorful leaf?  In the winter, when the days get short, arm your little ones with flashlights and head out after dark. There’s a lot to see, even if you stay on the sidewalk. Check out the night sky … can you spot the Big Dipper? Maybe you’ll get lucky and spot an owl. Spring rains fill the rivers and streams with interesting creatures; head out on an annual tadpole hunt. Hot summer days are perfect for hiking to a sandy beach and enjoying a picnic.

3. Rock & roll at the rink!

Roller and ice skating are great for exercise and tons of fun for all ages. Head to a local indoor rink, and start a tradition that involves being physically fit. Most roller rinks offer family and kid-focused skating sessions that are a great way to get your little ones rolling. In November, some rink’s offer annual “Skate Your Turkey Off” skate times on Thanksgiving day … it’s lots of fun and a good way to burn off some calories. Check out the schedules at Cal Skate in Chico (www.funland-, Viking Skate Country in Redding (, Siskiyou Ice Rink in Mt. Shasta (opens Nov. 17, 2012; A “Christmas in Paradise” Ice Rink opens fall 2013, (

4. Invite the kids into the kitchen.

Food is a wonderful way to build family traditions. The smells and tastes of our past are indelibly etched in our memories, and time spent in the kitchen will be cherished for years to come. North State Parent publisher Pamela Newman says, “Making homemade donuts when my kids were young every Thanksgiving holiday morning was a special time. There was something about it that pleased the senses … the flour dustings on the kids’ little hands and faces as they patted the dough, and smelling the maple-syrup flavored fresh-baked donuts, alongside the beautiful autumn weather we all really enjoyed.” If you want to try baking donuts (instead of frying them) with your little ones, check out:

5. Get the neighbors together for an annual party.

Expand your sense of family to include the neighbors, and plan an annual celebration. A neighborhood party can take whatever form you like: an informal get-together at your house for holiday cookies and eggnog, or a big, outdoor bash with a band and barbecue. If you’re planning a big event, recruit a few neighbors to help with the planning. Whatever you choose to do, get your little ones involved. Having them help decorate or pass out flyers will instill a sense of community spirit.

6. Make it a movie night!

Don’t just turn the TV on and let the kids fall into a mind-numbing trance. Make it a family event: once a week, once a month, or whenever!  Pick out a movie together, order the kids’ favorite pizza, pull out the pillows and blankets, and curl up on the couch together. Get in the holiday spirit with a festive flick like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The Polar Express.

7. Reminisce over Grandma’s tastiest recipe.

Was Grandma famous for her apple pie? Get the whole family together and break out her recipe. If Grandma lives nearby, have her demonstrate how it’s done and share the story of how she learned to cook. If Grandma is not nearby, share your favorite stories about her as you cook. Give your kids a sense of her personality, and why she’s a special person in their lives. Establish a bond between this generation and the previous one.

8. Take a holiday trip.

Traveling as a family is a great way to spend quality time together and forge lasting memories. Darla Mazariegos, writer for North State Parent, remembers her family’s annual holiday trip. “One of my favorite family traditions was the trip to San Francisco my family would take every Christmas. I grew up in the suburbs of San Jose and my dad felt it was important to take part in the holiday festivities that only a major city could put on. So off we went to San Francisco to spend the day at Union Square. The highlight of our day trip was to visit one of San Francisco’s well-known department stores, the City of Paris, to see the famously tall Christmas tree, which went straight up through a vast opening in the center of the store. We liked to see what theme the decorations were and would walk up to each floor to view the tree at each level. On the ceiling of the store was an immense colorful skylight, and, of course, the tree was topped with a special ornament. My dad was heartbroken when the store was sold to another company which tore down the beautiful City of Paris. This annual trip is still one of my favorite memories of holidays past.”

9. Dance, dance, dance!

Traditions aren’t just for the holiday. Any night can become a dance party! Turn the lights down, crank up the music, and get your groove on. Kids love to dance, and they love to see Mom and Dad dance, so get in the mix. Like food, music is tied to memory, so create your family soundtrack. When your kids are all grown up, hearing a favorite childhood song will evoke fond memories of your family’s fun times together.

10. Get in the spirit with a holiday-themed book.

Make a tradition of sharing holiday stories. Your little one is sure to love the traditional tale The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. For preschoolers through early elementary school, try Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera or Cranberry Thanksgiving by Harry Devlin. North State Parent’s advertising representative Tina McDermott reminisces about reading Cranberry Thanksgiving with her daughter, saying, “When the oldest of my three daughters was five and I was homeschooling her, I used a curriculum that taught every subject through children’s literature. Since my daughter loved reading above all (she snuggled books not teddy bears), it was the perfect way to teach her. The week before Thanksgiving we read Cranberry Thanksgiving, which is a sweet story of a young girl helping her grandmother protect her secret cranberry bread recipe. When my daughter saw the recipe at the end of the book, naturally we had to make it. My daughter is now nineteen and we have read the book and made the yummy bread every year since. It would not be Thanksgiving without it.”

11. Plan a farm-fresh picnic.

tart a healthy tradition! Visit a local farm or farmer’s market and have the kids pick out some mouth-watering fruits and veggies. Head to a nearby park with your locally grown items for a picnic. Don’t forget the picnic blanket!

12. Put it in print.

Write a letter to your children every year on a special day: their birthday, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, etc. Tell them how special they are to you, and what you love about them. Jot down the highlights of the last year: milestones met, or funny stories you don’t want to forget. Find a quiet moment after the festivities, and read them your letter. Place each letter in a scrapbook or binder to create a wonderful keepsake honoring their childhood.

Share your favorite family traditions with North State Parent magazine by emailing publisher Pamela Newman at:

Jessica Baldis
About Jessica Baldis

Author Jessica Baldis will spend the month of October concocting a plan to secretly extract all the Almond Joys from her three sons’ Halloween buckets and hoard them for herself.

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