The Importance of Family Traditions

Many times when we are living a serial life we are looking at how to change and evolve and improve.  With all of that going on there are significant benefits to family traditions.

Tradition (truh-dish-uh-n)- noun

  1. The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.
  2. Something that is handed down.
  3. A long established or inherited way of thinking.
  4. A continuing pattern of cultural beliefs or patterns.

Traditions give us comfort. They are stable. There are no surprises. We can count on them. Click To Tweet

Traditions Give Us History

Family traditions can let us know where we came from.  We are doing something that our ancestors did.  There are stories that get passed down and we reminisce and remember.  We become part of a long chain.  We belong. It is a personal legacy.

Traditions Give Us Comfort

While we are off living our lives and pursuing our goals traditions bring us back to home base.  They are something that deliberately interrupts our chaos and brings us back to the familiar. They are stable.  There are no surprises.  We can count on them.

Traditions Perpetuate Fond Memories

We not only get to recreate favorable circumstances to create additional positive memories but they enable us to recall and reminisce about our history as well.

Incorporating Traditions

Most of us already have traditions.  And the easiest thing to do is carry them on.

I have a lot of family traditions.  Most revolve around holidays and food with Christmas being the most significant one.  I come from mostly Italian heritage.  Christmas is a two day affair with Christmas Eve being of bigger importance than Christmas Day.

We celebrate Christmas Eve with The feast of the Seven Fishes.  Back in the day when the Catholics fasted it was usually abstaining from meat…hence the reason for all the fish.  Seven was a biblically symbolic number so that was incorporated as well.  We end up with a variety of things that usually look something like this:  Shrimp, Calamari (squid), scallops, mussels, and crab.  If you notice that is only about 5.  My dad hated the baccala (dried, salted codfish) and Escargot (snails) are hard to get around our parts.  So instead of being literal we uphold the spirit of the feast.

After we eat and clean up the dishes we open gifts.  All but what Santa will bring later.  Then we have dessert and enjoy each other’s company.

Christmas Day is to see what Santa brings and leisurely enjoy each other’s company.  That is topped off with homemade Ravioli (that was made by all the family members a month or so previously) and bracciole.

I love these holiday traditions. My children love them. We love them because it is what makes us “us”. There is just something cool about everyone working on something communally and enjoying the fruits of our labor.  And while I don’t want to disrespect anyone else’s traditions….homemade ravioli totally trumps Turkey any day!

There are some people who don’t have a past of rich tradition.  That is ok!  There is no rule anywhere that says you can’t start your own traditions.  You get to pick what it is.  Just make sure it is what you really want because if everybody likes it will become a “requirement”.

Starting New Traditions

Most new traditions start  deliberately, accidentally, or because circumstances have changed.

Deliberately starting traditions is a great place to inject meaning into something.  Especially when you have children, it is an effective point to reinforce values.  Ever since my kids could read I have been writing birthday letters.  In the letters I document some of the milestones they hit in the past year but I also express my love and pride.  This was particularly beneficial when they were teenagers.  Even though we would butt heads, they had documented proof (permissible in a court of law) that their mother still loved them.

My neighbor down the street throws a last day of school party for her children.  There is silly string, water balloons, and plenty of snacks.  Everyone is invited to come.  One day I heard another mother question why she would bother with it all.  I loved her response, “The very best thing about school and childhood is summer break.  They should be able to have the best experience ever because they will lose that privilege soon enough.”  I guarantee you when those kids are 40 they will remember that tradition and remember how their mom helped them celebrate childhood.

Some traditions happen accidentally.  I have a brother who became allergic to turkey later in life.  We had to start adding different meats to the Thanksgiving table in addition to the turkey.  One year my mom made beef brisket.  Now everyone wants to eat the brisket and I have been threatened with my life if I don’t continue this new tradition. Every year there is almost zero brisket left over.  Most of that turkey is turned into sandwiches and soup.  An accidental tradition!

Some traditions are born of a change in circumstance.   Some of this is organic.  As families grow, they enlarge and eventually break off in to smaller family groups and it repeats.  Some of this is caused by family relations (as in one or more parties involved no longer communicate in a healthy way) and some by geography (people move).  Traditions can change and evolve but there is benefits to this…the new gives you a chance to create meaning.

When to Abandon a Tradition

Just because a tradition exists doesn’t mean you can’t shut it down. You should give up a tradition when it is no longer working for the majority (yes, there is always that one family member who has to be a whiney hiney because they don’t like something.  If you are that whiney hiney, quit putting a damper on everybody else’s good time.).  It needs to be a little democratic (the polite and civil kind of democracy). At least hear everyone out for the best results.  Dictatorships just inspire coups.

You should also abandon a tradition if it brings up negative memories or emotions.  A friend of mine grew up with his parent’s annual attempt at recreating the famous Norman Rockwell moment of carving the turkey. What happened in reality was a less than stellar imitation that devolved into a high octane marital dispute.  This memory left a bitter taste in his mouth.  So on Thanksgiving at his house, the turkey is sliced and diced behind the scenes and served up on a platter ready to go.  No turkey tension.  It was a tradition whose time was up.

Traditions All Year Long

As much as the holidays are ripe for adding traditions, sprinkle a few in throughout the year to create other special memories for your family to draw from.

The previously mentioned birthday letters and last day of school parties are good examples.  Make sure that whatever you pick means something to you and your family. There are other holidays or you can create milestone traditions (created round graduation, celebrating your child’s first job, or a certain birthday etc.).  Even ask your kids if there is something they want to turn into a tradition.

Don’t forget little daily traditions like the bedtime routines (reading, chatting, laughing), the “Hi, Honey, I’m home!”,  and saying ‘I love you’ when it’s light’s out.  Those little traditions seem so tiny but it would leave a big hole if they weren’t there.

Make your traditions personal and make them mean something to you.  Even if it just means a time to be silly.

Here are some others that we employ…on display for your inspiration…

*Do Nothing Day- a midwinter pajama day, where we do nothing.

*Backwards Dinner- on a very hot random day in the summer we eat dessert first, usually ice cream, and then eat dinner only if we have room for it later.

*Mother’s Day-  I get an annual Mother’s Day Nap

*Father’s Day- The Mister gets his nap.

*Birthdays-  Birthday Boy/Girl gets to make the menu for dinner

*The day after Thanksgiving we do not leave the house…we listen to Christmas Carols and decorate for Christmas

What family traditions are your favorite?  What ideas do you have for a new one you might want to start?

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