Creating Family Traditions



Tradition is defined in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “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.” Even though children may participate in family or societal traditions, many children don’t know the meaning of the word. When asked what a tradition is, a 6-year old wrinkled her forehead and said, “I don’t have a clue!” A bright 9-year-old looked perplexed and said, “I don’t know what that means.” A 12-year-old said, “I would think of it as people or a group coming together to celebrate or praise something.”

While maturity plays a role in a child’s definition of what a tradition is, so does the way families label events. A friend recently shared an anecdote about a young girl who came home from school and told her mother they had talked about the holidays in class. “So, do we have any traditions in our family?” she asked. While describing traditions may have been part of the class discussion, she did not relate it to her own family’s celebrations.

When guided to understand what a tradition is, the children quoted above were clearer. The 9-year-old said, “For the holidays, we get to eat junk food and take vacations.” The 6-year-old revealed, “We wait for Santa Claus to bring us presents and we put up a fake tree so the dog doesn’t tear it down!” The 12-year-old wistfully confided feeling that her family doesn’t have traditions because “things are always changing.”

Most families celebrate the holidays in a similar way each year. These “similar ways,” or traditions become part of the fabric of family life. For families who are interested in establishing traditions, the following ideas begin paving the way.

Focus on People

Focusing on people begins at home.

  • Have an evening story time. Reading holiday stories as a family creates a bond that children remember.
  • Sing holiday songs. Sing while you cook dinner and during a child’s bath time. Sing in the car. Kids love to sing, and if you sing along, it makes it more fun. Traveling to the grocery store or to school goes quickly when music becomes part of the trip.
  • Reach out. The holidays are a fine time for teaching children the art of giving. Call a relative that you don’t often contact. Donate non-perishable food items to a homeless shelter. Give gently worn used clothing to a rescue mission, a halfway house, or a church. Choose one project. Don’t feel like you have to do it all. When giving doesn’t come from a feeling of joy and abundance, it becomes a burden and may give children the message that we give because we have to and not because we want to. Teach by example that giving creates good feelings.

Cook and Decorate – Simply

Cooking from scratch is fun for some, but many think that during the holidays it’s a must. Forget that notion. Many children love to help make treats if the project isn’t too long or complicated. Cooking together adds to the holiday spirit when done in such a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Try the simple creations below – many health food and specialty stores offer packaged products that are organic and/or free of gluten, preservatives and chemical colorings; check online for simple healthy treat recipes too.

  • Use ready-to-bake cookie rolls or cookie mix.
  • Buy packaged cookies and decorate them with pre-made icing.
  • Use packaged cake mixes, ready-to-bake pie shells, and pre-made pie fillings.
  • Mix popcorn with nuts and chocolate (or carob) chips.

Decorating for the holidays is fun when it isn’t overdone.

  • Take evening excursions to look at outside decorations others display instead of spending the time to put up and take down your own.
  • Display the decorations the children make in their classrooms or activity classes. This shows them that what they offer is important.
  • Keep decorations simple enough that you don’t worry when children touch them. Holiday decorations are enticing, and if they can’t be touched, part of the joy of having them is lost.
  • Only put up as much as you’re willing to take down (cheerfully).

Keep Gift Giving Reasonable

In many families, the gift list grows each year. Shopping takes a toll on time, and can become a financial burden.

  • For extended family, have each person draw the name of one other family member and give to that person. Agree on a maximum dollar amount.
  • Assist your children in deciding which peers to give to and how much to spend.
  • If it is within your financial means, give your children a reasonable additional amount of allowance to spend on holiday gifts. Help them determine how best to spend the money. If they want to spend more than the amount you have provided, they will need to use their allowance.
  • Shop with the children at price-friendly places like stores that buy overstock and sell at discount prices.
  • •Above all, help your children to understand that the spirit of giving is far more important than what is given.

Establishing family traditions creates a sense of timelessness around the holidays and gives family members something to look forward to as the holidays approach. By keeping traditions and celebrations simple, all family members have the opportunity to enjoy them to the fullest. 

Carolyn Warnemuende
About Carolyn Warnemuende

Author Carolyn Warnemuende has two daughters and five grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Redding. She writes parenting and educational articles, sponsors a school in Uganda, and visits Africa twice a year. She receives great joy in taking daily care of her four-year-old granddaughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

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