Creating New Family Traditions

 

There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.

In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays.  I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.

My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation.  It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.

Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday.  What do I really want for them?  I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.

So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.

This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too.  A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.

Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift.  The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.

Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.  I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat?  Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.

We all have traditions whether we realize it or not.  Religions give us many of our traditions.  My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so.  Traditions can also be unique to each family.

In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.  By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night.  We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations.  It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month.  (Or almost every month?)

Traditions can be simple daily exercises.  Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me).  Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.

And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging.  I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.

This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us.  I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.

What are your traditions?  Old or new?  I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own.  Please leave me a comment.  And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.

Note: This column was first printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011.  You can also view it online here.

And I hope all my American friends have a happy, warm, loving Thanksgiving!

13 thoughts on “Creating New Family Traditions

  1. Shelli~ We have moved so much over our boys lives that we have done this for a while now. We used to get on a plane and fly back to see family for the holidays I think more for us and the grandparents then for the kids. The grandparents haven’t taken an active roll in their lives calling occasionally and sending cards/presents out so why make the holidays all about the extended family when our small family does just great without them! We always make a HUGE meal (from my grandma’s traditional foods- homemade everything well except for the turkey she used to go out and shoot hers!!) We have started having xmas eve where we invite friends over so the boys can share that with them and us and they really like it! Our other tradition is NOT to shop TODAY! We spend the whole day decorating watching xmas movies etc, its a fun day for all of us! Best part the leftovers means no one has to cook only heat up!!

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    1. Thank you so much for that, pandahoneybee! It sounds like you have some great traditions. I don’t shop today either, but I’m not sure I have the energy to get out the X-mas decorations either. Maybe when my boys are older and able to help more, we can start decorating this weekend after Thanksgiving!

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  2. i think rituals and family traditions are so important. we have never traveled at the holidays — we make our memories at home together. family is invited to join us, and we have friends over throughout the season, but staying home makes the holidays so relaxed!

    when i was still running my school, i had a mom say to me that she was depressed about the holiday coming up because, she said glumly, “it’s just going to be us, at home, by ourselves.” how depressing to feel that way about your own family!

    re: building traditions, i think you can do it both ways that you mention. there are the traditions that just arise spontaneously — or because one member of the family says “i loved it when we did THAT — let’s do that again!” but i do think you can be intentional about it as well. everyone might love making christmas cookies, but if you aren’t intentional about making it a priority — and making it *special* — it might never become a family tradition. we really make a ritual out of doing those special things together; we name them, and we celebrate them!

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Lori! You are right about being intentional. I guess what I’ve been doing lately is thinking about what we might all enjoy and then being more intentional about it, but if it’s a struggle to keep it going, then I’ll let it go. For example, I have been trying to do “together time” every morning with the boys. However, they are often so good and wanting to play and do their own thing in the mornings. So I’ve decided not to push it. Yet I try to think “together time” in my head just to make sure I spend plenty of time with them without being distracted about other things. Sometimes I say “together time!” even if it’s in the afternoon. Or I skip it all together. But that is a daily ritual. Yearly and monthly rituals are another thing and probably easier to maintain!

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  3. Thanks Shelli for mentioning our book, Together: Creating Family Traditions, in your post/article. I agree that traditions can give an individual sense of belonging and think it’s great that you’re looking for ways to make your family’s traditions more meaningful (btw – love your ritual of telling your son a story every night!). Some of our family’s favorites are driving up to our farm to chop down a Christmas tree and having a big breakfast of homemade waffles before opening presents on Christmas day. When our daughters were younger, we’d also decorate a small tree for their bedroom with ornaments and garlands they’d made together at home or at school. I’d love to hear the traditions you come up with. Have fun and happy holidays! – Rondi Hillstrom Davis

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    1. Rondi – Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. What an honor! Just today I helped my five-year-old decorate a little tree for his room. He remembered that we did it last year, so he wanted it again. A tradition in the making?! Happy Holidays to you!

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