(Part 1 of this blog identifies seven ways that observing holiday traditions can benefit your family. Part 2 provides a practical, creative list of suggested traditions that can appeal to a variety of stages of family life.)
I distinctly remember the burning sensation on my palms from rolling the hot, sweet, sticky popcorn balls my older sister and I would make every Christmas with our mom, throwing the silver tinsel (the kind you could pull tight and blow on it to make it hum) on the Christmas tree, and stringing strands of cranberries and popcorn from branch to branch. Then we would lay on the floor in front of the stereo listening to Bing Crosby’s Christmas album and sing along.
Since I have grown older and had a family of my own, I love (ok, I don’t really love it, but it does wake us up!) the sound of our youngest ringing the “Christmas Bell” in the dawning hours of Christmas morning to wake up the household. My husband always reads the story of Jesus’ birth from the book of Luke and leads us in a family prayer. Then we follow up the frenzy of gift giving with the sweet aroma of monkey bread and bacon for Christmas brunch.
Traditions, when done right, lend a certain magic, spirit, and texture to our holidays. They can add tremendous depth and meaning. They cause the day to stand out from among other days as special. Meg Cox, the author of The Book of New Family Traditions, defines family traditions as “any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”
Do you have a Christmas tradition in your family? Are there certain activities that your family does that build in special meaning? What about for Easter or even birthdays? If not, I encourage you to consider starting some in your own family because research shows the benefits are enormous!
Holidays are a great opportunity to pass along to your children the values you think are important. Attending a Christmas Eve church service reinforces the importance of faith and the true meaning of Christmas. Game night reinforces the importance of family time. Preparing Boxes of Love or serving at a soup kitchen reinforces the importance of serving others.
Whether your traditions reinforce your family, your faith or even your culture, they help establish a sense of “This is us! This what we do. This is who we are.” “We’re the Graces and we always _____ on Christmas.” In other words, you have a place where you belong!
Research shows that families that celebrate repeated traditions report stronger emotional connections and unity than families that don’t. They are also a great way to build inter-generational connections with extended family.
Traditions ensure that people take time for emotional connection in the midst of busy holiday planning and celebrating. It’s all too easy for the holiday to slip by without really being “present” with your loved ones. Additionally, as your children grow older, having lasting traditions are essential for maintaining emotional connections and closeness.
Ellen Galinsky, cofounder of the Families and Work Institute, describes a survey in which she asked children what they would remember most about their childhood. Most of the children responded by talking about simple, everyday traditions like family dinners, holiday get-togethers, and bedtime stories. Traditions help create the warm, nostalgic feelings we get when we think back to our childhood.
The familiarity of regular rituals and traditions can provide children with comfort in the midst of turmoil. One friend said that when her kids were little and life felt upside down due to divorce, their holiday traditions brought a sense of stability to her children, traditions that they still want to observe even now that they’re adults.
Think about your family’s values, sense of humor, philosophies, says Ellie Lisitsa of The Gottman Institute. Incorporate ideas that are meaningful to and have purpose for the unique personality of your family. Try to personalize your traditions to your specific family members in creative ways. A great way to do this is by letting your children help determine what you do and how you it!
But let me close with a simple word of warning. You may love the idea of traditions and the deeper meaning and purpose they can bring to the holidays. You may even have the ideal experience in mind for your family traditions. However, it is important to avoid the mindset of the “Pinterest” experience that aspires to unattainable perfection. Don’t go overboard just for the sake of doing something – anything – if it truly has no meaning for the participants. It does not have to be perfectly beautiful, perfectly memorable, or done perfectly right. If the tradition stresses you out and causes arguments and tears by the end of it, don’t do it! If it doesn’t go exactly as planned
– be flexible and just enjoy it as is. In an environment filled with stress, it’s easy to lose the meaning behind the actions – to feel like even though you are trying very hard, you’re really just going through the motions.
Instead, take a look at your family traditions this year. Dr. John Gottman suggests that you weed out those that make you feel stressed out or harried. Keep the ones that leave family members feeling peaceful, emotionally satisfied, and closer to each other. Keep the ones that bring honor and glory God. And especially keep the ones that bring you back to the reason for the season – whichever season it is!
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:31
Next: Part 2 of this Holiday Traditions series will provide a list of practical, creative suggestions for traditions that will appeal to your family – no matter what stage of life you’re in!
Photo: Ginger bread House
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class called "Christian Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships." While she speaks and blogs regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage, and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling. Alisa and her husband, Chris, have been married over 30 years and have three wonderful children: Drew and his wife Julia, Natalie and her husband Neil, and their youngest blessing, Caroline.