When I reflect on my childhood, which was generally glorious, I have a special soft spot for my family’s various traditions. Some continue to this day – for example, my parents still spend Thanksgiving dinner going around the table and asking each person what he or she is thankful for that year. Others have faded away as we outgrew them or they became impracticable – for example, breakfast in bed on birthdays, which we maintained even after my sister and I moved out but finally abandoned when we got married.
Family traditions are like comfort foods, they give us a sense of stability and security in a world that is constantly changing. They also give a family, collectively, a sense of identity, which can foster a team spirit and sense of shared responsibility. Part of their mystique is that, for the most part, no one knows how or when a certain ritual started, and yet, there is a common understanding that they must be preserved. My family’s traditions have been in place for as long as I can remember.
Now that I have kids of my own, I am eager to develop family traditions that my kids will remember fondly when they grow up. Of course, I will continue some of the customs of my childhood, and my husband will contribute some from his upbringing, but I also want to create some practices that are unique to the four of us. With the holiday season upon us, I have been finding it very stressful trying to “create” special traditions.
Fortunately, as my children’s long-term memories have not yet developed, we have a couple of years to experiment with different “potential traditions” to see if they fit. Next week we will give our son his first advent calendar and potentially create a family tradition of counting down the days until Christmas with a wish and a treat every day (for instance, when he opens the little drawer to discover a glow-in-the-dark bouncy ball, my son will also find a note that reads something like, “May you always bounce back when you get knocked down.”). But, if it turns out our son doesn’t care at all about the notes (he can’t read, after all), we may abandon them.
I haven’t actually discussed it with my parents, but I imagine that many of our family traditions began by chance. As young kids, my sister and I often got new “holiday jammies” and we were allowed to open that one gift on Christmas Eve so that we could wear them PJs that night and on Christmas day. As we got older, we were allowed to choose any one gift to open early, and my sister and I would spend long hours under the tree in the days leading to Christmas Eve deciding which present that would be. At this point in their lives (at not-quite 1 and 3 years old), my kids are only getting a couple of gifts each, so we won’t be doing Christmas Eve presents yet, but I haven’t ruled it out in the future.
I am confident that, even without my meticulous brainstorming and planning, my family will develop our own traditions that my kids will cherish. [Plus, if I get stuck, there are lots of off-the-shelf ideas for family traditions, such as 60+ Family Tradition Ideas (“pickle on the Christmas tree” sounds like a ton of fun!).] In the meantime, what’s the harm in trying to get a practice to catch on simply “because Mom thought it would be fun”? No one remembers how family traditions start anyways . . .