Pulling out the Christmas decorations, putting the lights on the house, playing old Christmas music, planning the menu for Christmas dinner (which requires little planning because every year it is the same) and watching It’s a Wonderful Life are just some of the traditions that can touch the heart strings and bring a very special sense of joy and connection for those of us who celebrate Christmas.
How much do you value traditions?
Others who celebrate other holidays at this time of year may have traditions that bring them a warm and joyful feeling of connection. Those warm feelings are stimulated by the traditions shared by family members to create a beautiful, tender universal response when memories are rekindled and enjoyed.
How do we recognize and pass on traditions?
How many of us, when we became parents, realized we had this wonderful opportunity to pass on traditions to our own children that our parents and grandparents passed onto us?
How delightful it is when our children begin eagerly to anticipate re-experiencing traditions they have learned are part of the family tapestry? It could be making holiday cookies together, having relatives move in for extended visits, traveling to connect with extended family members or friends, or going to the same place every year to pick out a tree. Each family has its own special list of traditions that bring meaning to the holidays.
Sometimes it is the traditions that make the holidays so special.
They create the security of something familiar and predictable associated with feelings of being loved, connected and cherished.
Traditions can be embraced by immediate as well as extended family members and sometimes even by communities or significant groups to which families are connected. Some communities have organized parties or progressive dinners. Others may have friendly competitions around decorating.
What do traditions mean to children?
For children, traditions are an important way to experience the joy of repeating the beloved rituals connected to a time of year where they experience a sense of belonging through shared memories.
Allowing children to connect to their traditions by telling them stories of past experiences enhances the joy of traditions. “Do you remember the first time you helped me set up the nativity scene? I remember that you wanted to put a special blanket over the baby because you were worried he might be cold at night. Do you remember that?”
Sometimes parents need to be very sensitive about creating new traditions when there have been significant disruptions in a family’s core structure. The death of someone significant, a divorce, or moving from a familiar home or town can leave children feeling disconnected from their traditions.
It is important for parents to allow children the opportunity to talk about the traditions they are missing and to have those feelings honored. “It just doesn’t feel the same without Grandma here to make cookies with us.” “You really miss putting up the tree in front of the big window we had in our old house.” “You are sad that Mommy and Daddy aren’t together like we always have been. It just doesn’t feel the same.”
Parents can explain to children what traditions are and can invite children to share what is important to them to have repeated.
Parents might be surprised to find out that their children have some special memories that the parents might not even think of as special. It might be revealing to ask, “What should we be sure to do this year that is special to you?”
Traditions offer a kind of loving security for children that connect them to their past, to their families and to their beliefs and values. Taking the time to honor traditions and, when necessary, creating new ones, are invisible gifts that parents give their children that will last way beyond any of the material gifts they buy.
Invitation to Reflect
- What are some of your cherished traditions for this time of year? Have you shared the stories around your traditions with your children?
- What traditions are important to your children? Have you asked them specifically what is special to them and then made sure you honored whatever those traditions are?
- Would it be helpful to establish new traditions for you and your children to cherish, especially if you have had changes in your family? How can you make your children a part of creating and maintaining those new traditions?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network