A Season of Change
For many families, the holidays include seasonal traditions. The words “we always” often mark the event. It might be “we always have Grandma’s cinnamon cookies,” or “we always” attend a particular religious service.
Traditions are the expected family rituals that accompany a particular occasion. Your family traditions may produce smiles or groans, but chances are you count on them year to year. What happens when a change in the family means the usual traditions are no longer feasible?
What if there has been a divorce, death, move or other event that has the family facing the holiday season “tradition-less”? Maybe old traditions no longer fit the family’s lifestyle or configuration. If you realize the function traditions play and why they are valuable, then you can decide how to introduce new traditions that will be meaningful.
By definition, traditions or rituals are beliefs or customs handed down through generations and performed in basically the same way. Not all family traditions occur around the holidays. Birthdays and vacations often have elements of tradition.
Traditions are more important to children of all ages than many parents realize. While some adults may feel less than enthusiastic about doing the same thing year after year, traditions provide feelings of security and belonging for children. They give a family a feeling of uniqueness.
The world can seem a large and frightening place to children. They feel safe when they can predict what will happen in their environment. Traditions are a great way to help children develop a feeling of predictability and family identity. A feeling of belonging is particularly important for teenagers. Adolescence is an insecure time of life and teens benefit from the security of a family. Even when teens complain about having to attend a family function instead of a peer outing, it’s important for parents to insist on their participation. Just be calm and firm, and explain your reasons. Teens like to know “why,” and hearing that their presence is an important part of the event will help them feel secure and loved—even if they never let you see it!
All right, so you’re ready to establish some new holiday traditions. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
• Keep it simple. Holidays are busy for everyone. No need to add something that entails more stress and time. Instead of making an elaborate dessert to serve, look through family photo albums, read a story out loud to your children—perhaps one that a family member read to you.
• Keep children’s ages in mind. Choose activities that are geared for your child’s age. Attending a performance of The Nutcracker might be too long and uninteresting to younger children. A drive downtown or through neighborhoods to view holiday lights could delight them. Seeing how the displays change each year adds another dimension to your tradition.
• Have fun. A family tradition provides an opportunity for reconnection during a busy time of year. Choose something enjoyable and playful—something you don’t usually take the time to do. Go sledding, adults included. Make your own holiday snow sculpture. Children and teens love seeing adult family members let loose and play.
• Be flexible. Try a few new things. Gather ideas from your kids. See which ones seem to work out and you would like to repeat. Some traditions can be adjusted as children get older and their interests change. You might switch from reading a picture book to watching a holiday movie.
Establishing new traditions can be fun and rewarding. Knowing you are creating a feeling of safety and comfort for your children will bring a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction—and that’s a holiday gift that really is “one size fits all.”
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being.