The Impact of Family Holiday Traditions
By Franki Hanke
Traditions create holiday celebrations. Everything we do to “do” a holiday are a collection of traditions repeated through generations of our different communities: religions, towns, or families.
Why do traditions matter?
Traditions create a sense of belonging. By repeating the tradition of our group, we know we’re in. They are part of a whole family identity and connect our loved ones to a shared sense of identity.
If you want to get nerdy for a second, “tradition” is derived from the Latin word tradiare which means “to hand over” or “to transmit,” so at its core, tradition is merely the passing down of activity. Now, in modern use, traditions can be created within one generation and repeated year to year.
When we repeat these holiday traditions, we’re reminded that we belong to this group, and it strengthens that connection. For example, when I re-watch It’s a Wonderful Life because it’s my mom’s favorite Christmas movie even when I spend the holidays separately, we feel closer. Those family bonds are strengthened by tradition.
When you’re repeating the traditions of family members who have passed away, that closeness is even more impactful.
In turn, these traditions track through the family’s history with fond memories and stories attached. They can be a centerpoint for verbal history.
“I don’t think I have any traditions.”
Sometimes, you can overlook what’s a tradition. They may be smaller than you imagine. They may not involve the entire family but be shared between specific people.
A simple mug of hot chocolate between the two earliest risers on Christmas morning before everyone else wakes up could end up being a more lasting memory than the gingerbread house building with the whole family unit.
If you don’t have any traditions, that’s okay. Now is your chance to create new ones. Brainstorm the things you might want to enjoy, and don’t be afraid to think outside the norm for your holidays.
What are some common traditions?
→ Decorating the Christmas Tree
→ Singing Christmas Carols in the Car While Spotting Lights
→ Cooking Latkes on the First Day of Hanukkah
→ Taking Photos with Santa at the Mall (or Having Someone Dress Up)
→ Gifting New Pajamas on the Night Before Christmas
→ Hosting a Movie Night with Classic Films
→ Gathering for a Game Night
→ Eating the Same Dishes for Christmas Dinner
→ Visting a Certain Family Member on Christmas Day
→ Sending Holiday Cards with Annual Photos
How can traditions evolve?
Some traditions are hard to maintain, but because of the importance of traditions, we often cling to them at the expense of our own enjoyment. It feels like without that family ritual, you’re losing a part of the holiday.
But, traditions must evolve. Don’t be afraid to change the traditions of your family to reflect your own family’s family values or even logistic constraints. If you grew up with religious traditions, but have since changed your views, you can still keep parts of a tradition while stripping back or changing the parts that no longer align.
For example, if you grew up with an elaborate family dinner on Christmas Eve that required Grandma to be in the kitchen cooking all day, that might take away from your ability to actually be present with your family all day. Instead, consider adjusting the tradition to be a potluck dinner, so everyone does a little work and there’s time for everyone to partake in something during the day, maybe board games. In time, the tradition shifts to better fit your life with a piece of the old tradition (sharing a special meal) and a new addition (playing games).
So, if you enjoy existing traditions, just tweak them to fit your life.
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Don’t cling to unpleasant traditions.
Sometimes, traditions can’t evolve. Even though we know the importance of family traditions, letting one go doesn’t mean your family isn’t connected. If you’re struggling to let go of a tradition that isn’t fitting your life, remember:
→ Traditions are signs of our family’s connection, not a dictator of that connection. You are still connected and loved without the tradition.
→ Traditions are created and changed constantly. You can forge new traditions that will, in time, be as special as the old ones.
→ You are your own person. You have to grow from what your family set to create your own future.
Embrace only the traditions that matter to you as you create a new part of the family. Traditions are powerful rituals, you don’t want them passing on the wrong things.
How are new traditions made?
So, if we don’t have many traditions or we’re ready to create new ones, it’s time to create new ones. It’s simpler than you think.
It just happens.
You can try to engine a tradition, but really, if you just celebrate a holiday season with activities that are joyful, fun, and memorable, the ones you enjoyed best with naturally repeat.
If you know a tradition you want already, just say so. It doesn’t spoil the magic if you’re clear and specific. For example, I’ve always wanted to open advent calendars in December, so, I said so! Now, my partner and I gift each other an advent calendar every year to start December.
What are some new, non-traditional traditions to try?
Every year, people create new traditions. These don’t have to be tied to typical, often religious holiday aspects. Anything can become a meaningful, positive tradition. In fact, the sillier things might become your favorite traditions as they lack the pressure of a long-standing history to compare to.
This year, draw inspiration from new, inventive traditions to try from what people are sharing on TikTok.
→ Sharing a Family Meal Themed Around Dips or a Hyperspecific Dress Code
→ Elaborate Gingerbread House Competitions
These traditions showcase that anything can become meaningful.
So, this year, share with us what your traditions are or what traditions you’re starting. Better yet, make a video and show us on TikTok. Tag us @finerthingslifestyle, because we’d love to see it!
What if you’re not feeling the holidays?
Sometimes, this season of cheer can quickly become something else entirely. We get it. We’ve written several articles recently to help you survive the holidays whether you’re struggling with saying no, managing stress, or handling a seasonal mood change.
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