Establishing Family Rituals & Traditions
4 Simple Steps for Crafting a Lifetime of Memories
The holidays are here! And more than likely, you probably have some sort of vision as to how the holidays should play out in your home. Maybe as a child, every Christmas Eve you attended church with your family, and that is something you hope to carry on with your children. Or perhaps, as an adult, your annual Thanksgiving celebrations – which once resembled large family gatherings – have now evolved into small get-togethers with close friends.
In our family, we usually gather extended family together the first week in December for a tradition my mother started many years ago called “Cookie Day.” On Cookie Day, we all meet at my parent’s house, each with 1-2 unique cookie recipes and our ingredients. We then spend the entire day rotating in and out of the kitchen baking double-batches of our cookies. Cookie Day has something for everyone; the adults help each other in the kitchen (preparing batches with multiple mixers running at a time), the kids sit at the table with assortments of toppings to decorate and frost cookies, and everyone gets to offer up their services as “Official Cookie Taste Testers.” Throughout the day, we all enjoy food and holiday drinks together, we participate in a white elephant gift exchange game, Santa stops by to visit the younger children and provide a small preliminary Christmas gift (as an incentive for good behavior for the rest of December), and by the end of the night, we have tables filled with anywhere between 10-20 different styles of cookies to choose from. Each person in attendance is given a take-out container to fill and take home so that they may enjoy an assortment of homemade holiday cookies for themselves, or gift them to others. While many families may have their own unique versions of baking holiday cookies together, my mom has worked hard to make Cookie Day into a grand event that many of our family members look forward to each year.
There is something to be said for establishing routine rituals and traditions with our loved ones. In the year of COVID, when much of our sense of normalcy has been uprooted, it is a critically important time for us (as parents) to lay a solid foundation that our children can come to rely on and look forward to.
Along with providing our children a sense of security, family traditions and rituals can help establish a sense of identity, teach values, bridge connections to previous generations, strengthen family bonds, and help create lasting and cherished memories.
Celebrations and ceremonies – even for the smallest occasions – can also help to teach our children how to show appreciation and gratitude and can provide opportunities for reflection. Are you ready for the best part? As parents to young children, we currently have the unique opportunity to establish traditions and rituals for our immediate family that could carry on well beyond our earthly years.
So how do we go about creating, establishing, and implementing traditions for our own family? Here are four simple steps to get you started.
- DECIDE ON A TIMEFRAME
Traditions can be established as simple routines that organize our day-to-day lives (like Friday Family game night), or they can revolve around seasonal or holiday rituals, and be more symbolic and planned. Whether it’s a daily bedtime routine, a weekly brunch, a month-long winter celebration, or a once a year Birthday bonanza; choosing a dedicated timeframe (and committing to it) is what will help secure the tradition -by providing a placeholder for a specific time in your child’s memory. In the same way major retailers change out their seasonal decorations to signal a shift in our shopping behaviors, our children will begin to clue in on cues that can trigger memories of traditions, and provide them with a sense of identity and something to look forward to.
Example: If you visit the Pumpkin Patch every year in October, each year when the pumpkins begin to come out, your child will be reminded of previous pumpkin patch experiences and will begin to look forward to this outing.
- CHOOSE A GOAL/PICK A THEME
Rituals can have a somber or spiritual overtone, or just as easily be fun and whimsical (think Dia de los Muertos.) If you’re a church-going family you probably already have a regular ritual of saying prayers before mealtimes and bedtimes. Non-religious households can just as easily establish consistent, repeated, and shared experiences (think special bath time rituals or evening walks). Identifying a goal for your tradition can help you narrow down a theme.
Example: If your goal is to encourage healthy eating habits, you might institute “Meatless Mondays”. Once you’ve identified what goal you want to accomplish with your ritual or tradition, the possibilities for a theme become endless.
- DRAW FROM THE PAST
Think back to your own childhood. Are there certain stories from your past that you love to share? Maybe it’s how your mother baked you a special birthday cake from scratch each year. Or how you looked forward to opening your advent calendar each day leading up to Christmas. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, you can pull from past experiences to establish the groundwork for future traditions. Think of special memories from your own life as well as from the generations that came before.
Perhaps there are things you’d rather not carry on. Like the annual holiday fruitcake, or how your family would spend all of Christmas day driving to a relative’s house. Chances are there’s probably a mix of traditions worth keeping and ones worth rethinking. Take a moment to consider whether you have to keep all the elements of a particular ritual the same. Slightly modifying certain traditions may make more sense for your family. Exhausted from having to travel to see extended family every holiday? Looking to start establishing some gatherings at your home instead of Grandma’s house? If you’re worried about any pushback you might receive, use COVID as an excuse to reset, and start your own tradition this year. “Sorry mom we just can’t risk flying to Denver this year for the ‘Smith’s Annual Easter Egg hunt.’ Instead, we’re going to take Claire and Simon to a bunny farm and plant some carrots and lettuce in our Easter garden.”
- INVOLVE YOUR LITTLES IN THE PROCESS
Kids have incredible imaginations and may prove to be valuable resources for developing unique and one-of-a-kind ideas that you can incorporate into your rituals to make them extra special. Your children will embrace rituals and traditions even more if they feel a sense of ownership in the process. Ask your children about ways they might like to make a celebration special or memorable. You may be surprised by what they share, or what they remember most about a particular experience. While you may not be able to fulfill every idea or request – “No, we can’t swim in a pool full of ice cream” – You can use their ideas as a springboard for inspiration – “On the last day of the school year we can have ice cream for breakfast!.”
Now that you have a roadmap for establishing your own traditions and rituals, what are you waiting for?! It’s the perfect time to start establishing milestone moments for you and your family that you can embrace for years to come. One day when your children are grown and have families of their own, they will reflect back and share stories about what made their home life unique and special when they were growing up. And you’ll have a sense of fulfillment and years-worth of memorable moments to carry with you! Who knows? With a little luck, maybe traditions you establish now will get passed along to future generations.
Still needing inspiration? Here are some favorite family traditions shared by fellow CECPTA members:
Lauren R. – My Fave Holiday Tradition: At Christmas we make Pan de Polvo in really pretty shapes while drinking Abuelita’s hot chocolate (spiked with Tequila for mama)! We celebrate Dia de los Muertos with an ofrenda and we eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s while making a wish – one for each month. Oh my husband and I also have a date tradition in December. He took me to Deer Field on our first date goodness seven years ago and we have done it ever since together.
Amber G. – For Christmas Eve we get to open up new matching family pajamas, then we wear them while we go out to look at Christmas lights. We also do 4 Christmas gifts (including the pajamas as the something to wear) following the theme of “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read).
Sabeen R. – In Pakistan, it’s a tradition among Christian families to start visiting with friends and family a week before Christmas and bring a cake with you. By Christmas time, there’s quite a few cakes in the fridge to binge on! As an interfaith couple, we celebrate both Hindu (for the hubby) and Christian holidays. We light tea lights on our porch for Diwali (the Hindu Festival of Lights) and play with colors for Holi (the festival of colors aka the OG color run lol.) For Christmas, we have a party a few days before Christmas at my house for our friends, where I make all the yummies my mom made for Christmas …. biryani, a carrot desert and rich plum cake.
Carrie T. – Growing up my family was huge on the Fourth of July. We’d decorate and have a big party with a cookout and do fireworks in the cul de sac. Often there was a poker tournament as well. In my current neighborhood we can’t do fireworks, but we still decorate and the kids ride their wildly decorated bikes in the neighborhood parade. Another favorite holiday tradition is having Swedish cardamom coffee cake on Christmas morning!
Marisa M. –We eat tamales and open one present on Christmas Eve.
Joylynn H. – In November we pick a charity as a family and give back. In December, we play Elf on the Shelf. My husband and I have a contest on who can do it better! We also make ugly holiday cookies for fun with ugly sweaters/sweats (because we’re not bakers, just cookie monsters!) My kids love the show “Nailed It!” I may do a cookie competition inspired by it this year.
HAVE A UNIQUE TRADITION OF YOUR OWN? Have you adopted some new traditions this year – due to COVID – that you plan to carry forward into the future? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!
About the Author
Kristin is a boy-mom of two, William (3) and Benjamin (newborn), who resides in Carrollton, TX with her husband Matt. Originally from Chicago, IL she moved to Dallas, TX in 2011. She has a professional background in Communications and has worked as a full-time mom, a part-time mom, a work-from-home mom, and is now navigating life as a stay-at-home mom. She joined CECPTA in November 2019 and is part of the PURPLE and RED playgroups. When not quarantining from a global pandemic she enjoys travel, exploring new places in and around DFW with her kids, having date-night with her husband at the movies, playing board games with friends, and seeking out the best burger and queso at any number of area restaurants.