When I was little, anytime we did anything fun, I begged for it to become a “tradition.” Naturally, as a parent, I love creating family traditions.
A few things seem clear about the way we make memories. When something is repeated, we are more likely to remember it. Researchers also agree that the more associations (such as sights and smells) we have with an experience, the more likely we’ll remember it. We are also more likely to remember moments that are fun and connected to loved ones.
I asked family, friends and my Twitter followers for some of their favorite traditions.
Enhance the holidays. The holidays are a natural time to create traditions. Several people give new pajamas on Christmas Eve. One Twitter follower shared that in her family they have “mystery gifts” on Christmas Eve. The parents enlist the help of family members and friends so that the kids are thrilled when gifts appear as if by magic on the doorstep—while the parents have never left their sight.
Many people begin Christmas morning with a pancake breakfast, preferably eaten in those new PJs.
Holiday magic: Giving pajamas on Christmas Eve is popular with many families.
© Bonita Cheshier | Dreamstime.com
This year, in my family, we kept jars all year to open on New Year’s Day: One jar holds slips of paper stating nice things that happened to us, while another lists nice things we’ve done for others.
Celebrate special occasions. The night before a birthday, my husband and I hang beads on the doorway of the birthday child and fill the bedroom hallway with balloons so the day begins with a party. At breakfast, we give them the cards that we’ve kept hidden, and, for dinner, the birthday person chooses the meal and it’s lit by candles.
Pay attention. Notice what your kids love. Which activities do they love most? Think about creating opportunities to do them regularly—not every day—but enough that they remember and anticipate them. Host a read-a-thon, jump-rope-a-thon or neighborhood run. Make events out of passions.
Break routines. One colleague’s favorite childhood memory is when his mom picked him up from school for a dentist appointment and surprised him with a matinee of The Empire Strikes Back. Once a year, on a sunny spring day, my high school cancelled classes and let us lounge on the grass. Routines are important to children’s development. But part of the fun of having routines is breaking them.
Reframe a negative. I have a good friend who is married to a retired firefighter. When their daughters were small, he worked the Saturday-night shift every six weeks. On those nights, the girls spread a picnic blanket in front of the TV, ate fried foods and sweets and watched a series of chick flicks together. Another friend made “Cheese and Ronis,” or cottage cheese and macaroni, whenever her children were sick—and her kids, now graduated and grown, still request it.
Family adventures. Some families I know try to do one somewhat daring thing a weekend during the summertime. Another friend created the “Playground Summer,” when she and her young son explored every playground in Central New York. One family who lived on a river took nighttime kayak trips together.
Gather with friends. The things that we loved to do as teens and twenty-somethings can evolve to include growing families. I know several people who gather with college friends to rent beach or lake houses for a weekend with their families.
Eat together. We enjoy ice cream on July 4 followed by a family sleepover. We host a cookie-decorating party before Christmas. I must eat a hot dog at the State Fair. (Seriously.) My husband’s grandmother fried homemade doughnuts on Doughnut Day when he was young.
Remember that traditions do not need to be fussy or expensive. Experiment. Even if your attempts don’t evolve into traditions, you’ll have fun trying. Notice what makes your family happy and do it.
Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade. Send comments about this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.