Creating New Family Traditions Around the Holidays
A “new tradition” is sort of an oxymoron. By definition, (“a long-established, inherited way of thinking or acting”), a tradition is some action that you have been doing for a while. But I believe it is both possible and helpful to intentionally create new traditions for your family.
We need to recognize that families go through a variety of life stages, with different needs at each stage. And the demands and parameters of daily life vary significantly. It is hard to imagine a family tradition that could survive and be really appropriate for family members across all life stages (with the possible exception of special foods served at holiday meals). That is why most family traditions die over time — they no longer “fit” with where the family is currently. So it really seems necessary for families to create (or revise) family traditions over time, if the family is going to continue to have traditions they celebrate.
We may want to review why having traditions is important.
• Create a sense of togetherness among family members.
• Provide a context by which family memories are made and can be recalled (“remember when you were little, we used to … “)
• Become an avenue through which you can teach important values (e.g. going as a family on a service project together).
• Give a sense of stability and predictability to a family, which children both need and desire.
• Generate positive emotional energy within a family through a sense of anticipation of the event, and also gratitude for the energy expended to make the event occur.
• Develop a pathway of transferring family history, values and stories across generations (“When I was growing up, our family . . . “)
Let me give you two examples of traditions we have created within our family over the years.
Opening Christmas presents. When our children were little, we devised a strategy to manage the pressure of them wanting to open Christmas presents (which were already under the tree) on Christmas eve. Rather than facing constant and repeated questions (“Can’t we just …), we came upon the plan of me [dad] giving the family a present to open on Christmas eve. Every year it was a game that we could play together that evening. So it accomplished a number of goals: a) decreased the demands to open presents; b) provided a family activity for us to do together; and c) helped us develop quite a storehouse of games to be used throughout the year!
Giving gifts to charities and educating the family about the charity. Several years ago, when my siblings and our families gathered together to exchange gifts at my parents’ home, we decided that we didn’t need to give each other small, and sometimes not very meaningful gifts, just out of habit. We were having our own families, didn’t need the extra expense, and the time and energy to shop for one another (even after we had reduced it to drawing names to just give one present) didn’t seem worth it. So we agreed to start a new gift giving tradition. That each year one sibling and our spouse would choose a charity; we would provide information about the organization and the services they provided, and then the siblings gave money to that charity instead of buying gifts. (This was a time-limited tradition which went away as our families grew larger and we no longer meet together to exchange gifts across the extended family.)
As we approach the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, when most families gather together, I would encourage you to think about your current (or possibly past) traditions that you want to keep going or rekindle. And also think about possible new traditions that you may want to start.
Here are a couple of lessons we have learned in starting new traditions:
• There needs to be a leader, someone who leads out and take charge. Just throwing out an idea (“Maybe we should . . .” or “What do you think about . . . “), doesn’t make it happen.
• Having more than one family member involved and committed raises the probability of getting started. Trying to start a family tradition by yourself doesn’t usually work. There needs to be “buy in” from one or two others (depending on the size of your family) to sustain the energy needed to overcome inertia, and to “get it done”.
• Don’t wait for everyone to get excited about the idea in order to start. Having unanimous agreement or excitement is probably an unrealistic expectation (especially if you have teenagers!) It is okay for someone to not really be that excited about the idea initially. But usually, if it is a decent idea and implemented adequately, family members “come along” and often later admit they enjoyed the time.
Whatever you do together as a family over the coming weeks, do it and enjoy one another! May God bless you and your time together over the holidays.