This is an article I wrote for our MOPS newsletter this month. Yes, I'm the editor and I write the articles. It's the only way I'm sure to get published, yo! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
What do you remember from your childhood? Trips to Grandma’s house? Yearly vacations? No yearly vacations? One of the great things about starting your own family is the ability to keep traditions you loved as a child or introduce new traditions you wish you’d experienced as a child. There are lots of ways to come up with new traditions, but here are some creative ways to start thinking of your family’s holiday activities.
Why are they important? The importance of family traditions should not be underestimated. While some may seem hokey (or your children may yet be too young to appreciate them), they go a long way in forming your “club.” That’s the best way to describe it—a family is a place where parents and children feel safe and accepted, and everyone feels like a part of something special. The traditions your family holds are equivalent to a secret handshake: your family has a shared experience that brings you closer together. If you have some traditions that involve extended family, it is still important that your smaller family unit has traditions unique to you. Your children will remember these activities as they get older. When asked, do you want your child to say, “No, we didn’t really do anything special for Christmas,” or, worse, “We didn’t really do anything as a family”?
Hand it down... The easiest way to incorporate new activities into our families is to remember what we enjoyed as children. Did you get new pajamas on Christmas Eve? How about breaking the wishbone with your siblings after Thanksgiving dinner? While they may seem like small things, they add up to a meaningful childhood. Between you and your spouse, you should be able to assemble a new set of family traditions.
...Or don’t. Sometimes our family traditions growing up weren’t great. They give us bad memories, and incorporating them into our families now would only cause stress and bad feelings. Don’t feel you have to keep those, but don’t deprive your family of new traditions.
If you didn’t have great traditions in your family, maybe your friends did. Sometimes we saw traditions in the families of our friends that always seemed appealing as we pressed our noses to the windows into their lives. Your family is your own now—try one of those activities you envied as a kid. It may be as fun as you’d hoped!
Honor your heritage. Some of us have families that are relatively new to the United States. Perhaps you’re the first generation of your family to live here! Even if you only have a vague understanding of your heritage, it’s never too late to learn. Whether your family is from Greece, Russia, France or China, each country has celebratory traditions you can incorporate into your family at any time. Do a little research and decide what sounds fun and sustainable for your family.
Do some research. If you don’t have any great ideas screaming to the front of your mind after rifling through your childhood, a quick Internet search will do the trick. It might seem silly and contrived, but you may stumble upon a tradition that appeals to you and your family.
Not just for holidays. While many of us look forward to the holidays, some of the best traditions are those that families can enjoy all year ‘round. Movie nights, special meals, or something as simple as a special place setting for birthdays (or other celebrations, like a good report card) can be as exciting as the holiday festivities. Anything your family looks forward to can be considered a tradition.
If at first you don’t succeed... Not all traditions are suited to all families. If you try something and it flops, you don’t have to hold onto it for the sake of tradition. Try again! Find something everyone loves and you may just change your family for good.