As soon as the calendar turns to December, my family starts craving Christmas cookies, so we set aside one night when everyone’s home to mix, bake, and decorate dozens of sugar cookies. We use the same recipe my mom used when I was growing up and many of the same cookie cutters. I set out colored bowls of frosting, sprinkles, and candies and when all the cookies are frosted, we take the annual picture of our creations.
December is full of these kinds of family traditions. They’re part of what make this month so special. Rituals and traditions are important. They don’t just mark the time of year; they help form a strong and unique family bond. And while family traditions take a bit of planning, they’re so worth it. Here are five reasons families should make and keep traditions:
1. Traditions anchor your family.
When kids change schools or families make a cross-country move, traditions provide continuity. They are familiar and help root the family. While change can be hard for kids, traditions can be counted on year after year. A friend of mine has moved several times in the last 20 years, and in every house, she’s kept true to one favorite tradition—letting the kids sleep under the tree on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the things that keeps their family close no matter where they live.
2. Traditions create a strong family identity.
This is one way to celebrate your family’s uniqueness. Maybe your family loves the competition of family Olympics, the silliness of a crazy board game night or an evening of caroling for neighbors. Traditions reflect your family’s personality and help a child know who they are. Another family I know keeps a tradition passed down from grandparents. Every Christmas Eve, they open one present: a book specially chosen for each of their three boys. It’s a tradition that suits this book-loving family and will likely be carried on by the boys in their own families one day. Don’t have a Christmas Eve tradition? Try one of these.
3. Traditions honor your family’s heritage.
Christmas is a great time to reflect customs from your family’s heritage. Perhaps your family includes special decorations in the house or special foods on the table. Our family celebrates St. Nicholas Day as part of our Dutch heritage. On December 5th, each child leaves a shoe by the fireplace and straw (in our case, pine straw) for the reindeer. In the morning, the pine straw is gone and a small gift is tucked inside each shoe. It’s a fun way to remember and celebrate family lineage.
4. Traditions encourage family time together.
Let’s face it: We live in a world of overscheduled families and overstuffed holidays. Traditions help a family purposely set aside blocks of time and evenings to be together. They provide a boundary to the busyness and bring families together for times of fun and meaning. Events like an annual tour of Christmas lights or a yearly gingerbread contest help your family invest time in each other. Try our family Advent calendar for ideas.
5. Traditions build memories through intentional parenting.
This is probably the best part of family traditions. Helping a child make her own memories is a big deal and traditions become the bedrock of our children’s memories. Including family traditions as part of the holidays means that memories will be about more than shopping and presents.
Every Christmas, as I pull out my yellowed sugar cookie recipe and set out cooled cookies for my kids to decorate, I’m taken back to my own childhood where we decorated cookies around our maple table. Because they are memories my kids now have as well, this tradition will probably continue when my kids have their own families.
What special holiday traditions does your family have or what new traditions would you like to start this year?