What’s your favorite holiday memory? Chances are good the holiday events that left the biggest impression upon you center around one or more of your family’s holiday traditions. For example, we know a woman who was allowed to get up with her brother on Christmas morning and get into their stockings before they woke Mom and Dad to open gifts under the tree. “Santa” brilliantly hung their stockings on their bedroom doors, Mom and Dad got a few minutes extra sleep, and brother and sister bonded over the tradition. They even continued the ritual when they were older, setting alarm clocks to wake up before their parents! Another friend of ours and her siblings received new pajamas every Christmas Eve from their great grandparents. Even though they’re now grown up, they continue the tradition – and honor their great grandparents – by exchanging PJs each Christmas Eve. THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITIONS The value of family traditions and rituals is well documented. According to Barbara Biziou, author of The Joys of Family Rituals, “Rituals anchor us and give us a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.” Here’s a sampling of reasons why traditions are important: They provide a source of identity – Traditions tell a story about your family. Traditions provide your family something to connect over – They’re shared experiences. They offer a comforting constant in a busy, fast-moving world – You can count on them no matter what else is going on. They teach family values – These values can be religious or cultural beliefs but they can also include simpler values like humor (e.g., a gag gift tradition). Traditions offer an anchor for meaningful memories. HOW TO START A FAMILY HOLIDAY TRADITION The author of The Book of New Family Traditions, Meg Cox, defines family ritual as “any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.” When creating a family ritual, she recommends having a purpose and making it personal. Consider what you want to do. Do you want to remind everyone to be thankful? Create a sense of fun? Pass on something from your cultural heritage? Begin with that goal in mind, and then tailor the ritual to what will appeal to your family. Also, feel free to borrow from your own childhood traditions, but adapt them to create something new and unique to your current family unit. Finally, keep it simple. There’s a tendency to think that family traditions need to be elaborate. Keeping them simple prevents you and your family from feeling overwhelmed and makes it easier to repeat year after year. IDEAS FOR HOLIDAY TRADITIONS If you’re interested in starting a new tradition, it’s likely you already have some thoughts about what you’ll do. But if you’re looking for ideas, we uncovered a few to share with you! Invest in a refillable Advent Calendar (Like this one from Target) to use each year. Put everyone’s favorite treats inside. Create personal Christmas trees from tree branches, small jars, florist’s foam, and ornaments that identify what you’re thankful for this year. Build a Gingerbread house as a family. Have an annual family cookie baking and decorating party. Read a favorite Christmas tale each year, such as our The Magic Christmas Key. Be sure to place the key on the door! Go caroling! You’ll be surprised at how positively people will respond to this “dying” tradition (even if you’re off key)! Attend a holiday show like “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker” each year. Let each family member pick their favorite Christmas special or movie and have a DVD marathon with favorite snacks. Set out cookies for Santa and food for the reindeer each Christmas Eve. Add to the tradition by selecting a special tray, just for Santa. Take your family on an annual tour of your town’s Christmas lights. Select one or more ornaments that represent the true meaning of Christmas, like our Christ’s Nail or Old Forge Pewter Meaning of Christmas Candy Cane. Put these on the tree first and discuss the significance. Go on an annual, outdoor outing, such as ice skating, skiing, or snow tubing. Volunteer as a family at the local food bank or similar charity. Purchase a new ornament for the Christmas tree each year, based on something your family did together this year (e.g. a tourist spot you visited). Hide The Traditional Christmas Pickle Ornament on the tree on Christmas Eve. In the morning, the first child to spot the pickle receives a small, extra gift. Good fortune for the New Year is promised to the first adult to find it. Track Santa with NORAD each Christmas Eve. Remember: You don’t have to make your traditions elaborate or difficult to execute. And don’t feel like you need to include the rituals that “everyone else” does. It’s your family and you know them best. Introduce traditions that your family will most enjoy, they’ll be easy to repeat them year after year, and you’ll strengthen your family’s identity, connections, and shared values. Plus, the memories you’ll create will last forever!