Creating New Family Traditions

Note: This column first appeared in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 (you can view it online here), and shortly after, appeared on my blog. I’m re-posting it now because we’re entering the holiday season again, which can be stressful for many, including me. It’s important to think about what you want for your family at this season, and I hope this inspires you. Please leave me a comment and tell me about your favorite family traditions. (Psst…This also happens to be one chapter in my e-book, Then There Were Two: Essays on Motherhood.)

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.

You can view all my posts regarding seasonal traditions (which I’m still working on) here: Traditions / Rituals / Holidays

7 thoughts on “Creating New Family Traditions

  1. We have done this for years now:) Constant moving around the country for hubby’s job left us usually too far away to come for a short visit…and honestly the cost of plane rides and staying with family gets hard to remember that you are celebrating anything. I do Thanksgiving at my house and invite friends that couldn’t go home…the boys love being able to play with friends. As far as Christmas…we have a Christmas Eve get together in honor of my grandmother’s traditions but Christmas is just us! Unless we know of someone who doesn’t have any family around we invite them as well:)
    I used to bake xmas candy like my mom does but she gets together with a bunch of family and friends and its usually me…not worth the time in the past. But now my youngest is into cooking so we might give it another try:) We also make it a family thing to decorate for xmas instead of shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Would love to also hear what others do for the holidays always ready to add more fun to our family’s holiday schedule.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Michelle! I think decorating the tree right after Thanksgiving would be fun, although it doesn’t always happen when I plan it to. But we do decorate a little for each holiday, and my son enjoys that a lot. I keep thinking we need more traditions other than the common ones, but that’s pretty silly, I guess. I need to write a post about all our traditions, and I’ll probably realize we have more than I think we do! Traditions sometimes happen without us even thinking about it.

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  2. “Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.” — *some* traditions come about spontaneously, but really, we have the power to introduce traditions when our children are very young just by repeating the same activity each year or each season (or each week…). when they get older, they can request to do something again — and a new tradition is formed. but when they’re little, it’s really our choices that form the foundation of the family traditions. it’s funny how something can become a tradition without our meaning it to — we just repeated it and then the kids would never let us stop. ;o)

    it’s wonderful that we can create the experiences for our children that we might have longed for ourselves. we can become that big, happy family we always wanted. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Lori! You are definitely right ~ introducing traditions when children are young can work. But I do think that by providing children with creative and varied experiences is how the “traditions” will spring forth spontaneously. My son isn’t going to let me forget to carve a pumpkin every Halloween, for example! But I have many ideas that I think will make good traditions, but they just don’t stick. I can either get all anxious about it, or I can go with the flow and think about all the things we do that are traditions, which I may not have even planned in the first place!

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  3. What a lovely post!!! So honest, and heartfelt. I am the author of The Book of New Family Traditions, and it made me feel good to read that the book helped give you some ideas and reinforce things that were already burbling up. I just wanted to leave the note that I recently published a brand new edition of the book, with tons more ideas and examples from families. If you would like to see it and review it, I would be happy to send you a copy. Meanwhile, keep up the good work!!!

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