Family traditions strengthen the family, reinforce interconnectedness, and build a sense of identity. Through traditions, our children develop a sense of belonging. So much bang for your buck! You should spend a little time thinking about the traditions you’d like to create, because whether you intentionally create a meaningful tradition or not, they happen. What would you rather plant in your children’s memories – “On Sundays we always had to waste an hour in church, then everyone went back home to watch T.V.” or, “Every Sunday after Mass we went out for brunch. We’d sit around the table and tell bad jokes. Sometimes the waitresses would just look at us and shake their heads, but it was great.”
Tradition is Not the Same as Routine
Traditions are different from routines, in that they are special occurrences. They have a set ritual, and occur at the same time every year. Routines are ordinary everyday things. In many homes, putting up a Christmas Tree is a tradition. But in some homes, that tradition has become more of a routine. It isn’t special. It has more a feel of a chore – just one more thing that has to be done. If that is the way it is in your home, I challenge you to find a way to turn it into a tradition, or perhaps decide not to do a Christmas Tree any more.
Christmas Tree Traditions
What day do you put up a Christmas Tree? What day do you take it down? Where do you put it? How can you make it special? Is there a special place you like to get the tree from? What about finding a cut-your-own tree farm, and making a whole day of it? Some tree farms do most of the work for you, offering popcorn and hot chocolate as part of the package price of the tree. Once you get the tree home, who makes a fresh cut across the bottom? Who gets the tree stand? One child might hold the water for the tree, another could help untangle the strings of lights. The youngest child in our family always got to unpack and set up the nativity set.
After the tree is up, perhaps each child can hang his own ornaments. We did this in our family, as the inlaws gave each child a new keepsake ornament every year. We had to buy separate ornament storage boxes eventually, but then when each child matured and moved out, he took a piece of his childhood tradition with him. I imagine that setting up the tree will always be something special for them!
Perhaps after the tree trimming part, there could be a traditional dinner. Something quick and easy, because you want this day to be fun, not something you dread. When I was a little girl, my parents always had “smorgasboard” for the tree-trimming dinner. Mom put out cheese and crackers, jello, raw vegetables, and punch. Dad used to make his famous “Raw Beef”. Yeah – ground sirloin, mixed raw with chopped onions and tobasco sause, served on a wedge of cocktail rye bread. Nowadays most folks would think that was gross and unsafe, but boy, when we were little, we lined up around the table begging Dad to hurry up so we could eat.
And finally, the tradition could end with sitting in the dark with only the tree lights on, and admiring it. Perhaps sing a few carols, or read a Christmas story. Or just sit together and talk about the tree, and how it is the prettiest tree you’ve ever seen.
Why am I blogging about Christmas Trees now, at the end of February? Because establishing meaningful family traditions takes thought, time, and effort. This magical moment with you family isn’t going to happen if you forget to plan. You have to schedule that trip to cut the tree. You have to know where the tree stand is, and be sure to have the lights unpacked, spare bulbs on hand, and the creche dusted.
And maybe this is on my mind now because Christmas is just over, and for the first time, I didn’t have my Tree Trimming tradition. I missed it. But I’m living in one state with my husband, one daughter and a grandchild, while the other three are back in the state we just moved from. We put up three different trees this year. I got to see all three of them, but I wasn’t a part of the tradition. It’s hard getting old! But I was with my oldest daughter while she and her two-year-old put up their tree. Already she is planning the traditions she will share with Kaylee.
Decide What Traditions Your Family Will Embrace
I realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas. So right now, list the major holidays in your home. What traditions do you already have? Is there something you could add to make them even more special, or to make them perhaps more fun? If your Christmas Dinner means you have to spend five hours in the kitchen, then perhaps it’s time to consider the “Christmas Potluck”.
You want to have a balance. Not too many traditions, or they lose their meaning. Not too few traditions, or you miss a lot of opportunities to build family. There isn’t a magic number of traditions, and the more kids you have, the fewer traditions you might need if you celebrate each child’s birthday. Don’t forget, by the way, to celebrate each child’s birthday! I’ve heard too many children say that their birthday was never special because it was too close to Christmas Eve, or because it always fell when everyone was on vacation, or because of some other lame excuse. If you’re going to celebrate one child’s birthday, then you must make sure that every child’s birthday is special.
So, if someone were to ask your child about your family traditions, how do you think he would answer?