We took down (what I think) are the last of our Christmas decorations this week. Well, actually, I just looked up and saw that we still have wreaths on our windows. Oh well. Did you notice all of the early Christmas decorations this year? I’m going to be completely honest about the fact that our family decorated for Christmas on Halloween this year. This is normal for our family (I really love Christmas), but we definitely weren’t the only ones this year. In fact, there almost seemed to be a push to decorate early – a sentiment that after such a hard year it was okay to lean into the comfort of Christmas as early and as elaborately as possible.
One of the things that makes Christmas so special is the shared tradition. Everyone – at least in the states – can expect Christmas trees, Christmas music, gifts, and Santa paraphernalia whenever the holiday is in full swing. No matter the year or place, you know you can find Christmas lights to look at, hot cocoa (or cider/eggnog) to drink, and that someone will be making cookies. There is comfort in the performance and predictability of Christmas: you know what to expect and exactly what to do if you want to participate in a shared experience with the people around you – strangers and family alike.
Almost every family that celebrates Christmas has at least some kind of Christmas tradition, even if its as simple as putting up a tree. And even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you probably know enough to blend in at any Christmas party. Tradition is comforting, and it’s an anchor to memories from years past. And I think they are so important to family life.
We don’t remember much of our childhood for a simple reason: our brain prunes out old and unused information while it creates space for new information and experiences. Tradition defies this process; smelling Christmas cookies can instantly transport you back to your grandmother’s kitchen and singing a song can remind you of the many times before when you sang that song with you family.
But traditions and rituals don’t just have to be saved for Christmas or other holidays. Creating ordinary traditions with your children can reap huge benefits for years to come as they anchor their memories of their childhood. Ordinary traditions don’t have to be big or elaborate; they can be as simple as creating a new part of your routine.
Start a Weekly Tradition
One of our weekly traditions is to have a pizza movie night in our living room together. Our kids are still both preschoolers and we rarely last the entire movie without devolving into some kind of play, but it has become part of our normal. As our kids get older, we will make our own pizza more often and eventually watch something that isn’t animated, but we wanted this to be well-established by the time our kids started school. We want our family to spend at least one night a week at home spending time together, and this tradition is a way that we are communicating and sharing our value of family time with our kids.
Choose something that fits your family’s values and create an event or action attached to it. Maybe it’s a certain walk or hike you take every weekend. Or something that you eat together. Make a big deal about doing certain things the same way each week, and let your kids add to the tradition as they grow.
Start a Birthday Tradition
Another way to easily add tradition to your family’s life is to attach it to birthdays. There are families that spend the morning of each person’s birthday telling them what they love and appreciate about the birthday person. Other families make sure to have a special family dinner for each person’s birthday. Choose what is important to your family and do it several times a year by doing it during birthdays.
Traditions can also be attached to certain seasons. Maybe your family goes camping during the fall, does community service during the winter, goes strawberry picking in the spring, and visits family in the summer. This kind of tradition allows some extra flexibility for when and how to complete the tradition, but still creates the shared sense of family.
Whatever you choose to do with your family, make it your own and make it special. It can then grow into the anchor for your children’s memories and the tradition will become a safe, warm, welcoming space for them to return, year after year.
Leaning into the comfort of tradition with you,