Why are family traditions important and what do they look like? Find out how much your family will cherish these special times and a huge idea list of kid-approved favorite family traditions to choose from. Create incredible memories with your family during the holidays and throughout the whole year!
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I love family traditions. They were very important to me growing up. I remember being very proud to tell my friends that our family always had grandma's stuffing for Thanksgiving, went camping every summer, or had burgers every Saturday. I especially counted on the holidays being the same each year - doing the same things and serving the same foods. It was comforting to me and helped ground me in my place in the world.
As an adult I think back on the things I looked forward to each year, our traditions, with a fondness that helps me remember and appreciate my family - even those who are long gone.
But beyond how it makes me or my family feel, why are these seemingly little things we do together regularly as a family important?
Because traditions are vital for the well-being and health of every family.
Really. When I looked up family traditions on Wikipedia, I was surprised to read that social scientists very strongly believe in the value of family traditions. They have even coined a term, “entropic family,” to describe a family that loses its unique bonds over time because its member's time and energy were focused outside of the nuclear family.
Can a family really lose its bonds? Sadly, I can think of a few families we've known that after the kids grew up didn't really make time for each other anymore. They talk to each other only a couple times a year - or less. What’s even sadder to me is that they don’t think there was anything is strange about it.
While we aren’t made to remain attached at the hip to our families, we aren’t meant to be islands, either. There is a balance that is important to the way we view and navigate through our world.
This is also something more prevalent in Western, First World countries - in most of the world, living with your family as you age isn't a bad thing, it's the expected thing to help each other out. And continuing to take part in family traditions - gathering a few times each year or more for holidays or vacations - is the norm.
So, if our increasingly busy lifestyles can cause our family bonds to “loosen over time,” what can we do to combat these sometimes unavoidable circumstances?
By being intentional about cultivating and maintaining family traditions and rituals.
Being intentional simply means planning a few things to do with your family throughout the year. They can be simple or more involved, but should be meaningful, fun and unique to your family.
Use the family traditions idea list below as a starting point to make your plans. Your traditions may involve just your immediate family or your extended family, be something you repeat often or do just once. If your kids are older, hold a family meeting and ask them what they'd like to do.
In the end, it doesn't really matter what your family traditions look like, but just that you create events and memories that help to instill in your family that sense of security, love, and belonging we all need.
Favorite Family Traditions Big Idea List
- Eat dinner together - really important, maybe even number one!
- Have some meals outdoors in nice weather.
- Say a blessing around the table; hold hands when your family says the blessing.
- Have a family conversation starter jar that everyone pulls from each night.
- At the table everyone shares a rose and a thorn from their day.
- Light candles on the table every night, or at least in the winter, sometimes with all other lights turned off.
- Read aloud classic books the half hour before bedtime. Start when the kids are preschool age and keep going, don't stop when they're 'too old.' Think Little House On The Prairie all the way up to Lord of The Rings.
Note on reading aloud: We had read-aloud family time all the way up into high school and we all loved it! Our kids were both voracious readers by the time they were in first grade, so why did we keep this up? It was simply a way we could share the books we love with them.
We always read a book that was just above their level - in some cases way beyond their level - but they always enjoyed it and we were there to answer questions. We read all the Little House books and things like that, but we also read classics like Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, All Creatures Great and Small, Tom Sawyer, and To Kill A Mockingbird.
A perfect example of how we can underestimate kids ability to enjoy a book occurred when our daughter was about eight years old and our son eleven. Brian wanted to read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood to the kids and picked the classic book up from the library. When he started reading it he realized it was written in an old English - not crazy old, but old enough that even adults might have a hard time with some of the language.
He persevered, though, going slower and explaining things more. And you know what? Our daughter was enthralled. She loved the story of Robin Hood and she cried at the end when Robin died (and she wasn't a crier). Oh yeah, I think she understood it.
Um, can you maybe tell what my favorite daily tradition was?
- Have a weekly cleaning night and play music (loud!) while everybody does their job- end with an ice cream reward. (This is hands-down my favorite weekly tradition - probably no surprise there - but using a special reward and us all working together made it so even our kids remember it fondly!) Individual music works as kids get older (like in the photo above), but having a cleaning night mix of fun music when they're young is really memorable.
- Saturday (or Friday) At the Movies- make it the only time it's OK to eat in front of the TV (we always called it an "indoor picnic") to make it memorable.
- Work through a genre of movies on the movie night: musicals, westerns, old Disney, etc. Note: be careful, though, of some old musicals - they often have disturbing themes even with the fun music, which we found out the hard way. For example, in Carousel the theme is "a hit feels like a kiss when it comes from someone you love." Ugh. So creepy and wrong. We loved Singing In The Rain, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, The Music Man, Westside Story, and The Sound of Music to name a few.
- Have a set menu one day of the week - Taco Tuesdays or Pizza Saturdays with make your own pizza.
- Saturday morning big breakfasts (pull out all the stops with pancakes, eggs, etc.).
- Have Sunday Tea: tea with sandwiches and cookies on Sunday afternoons- make sure to bring out the teapots and pretty cups and saucers. This is also a good monthly option.
- Friday (or Saturday) date night- kids get a sitter and frozen pizza. Surprisingly, kids always remember these times! Honestly, though, for us this was more of a monthly thing if we were lucky - do what works for you.
- Have breakfast for dinner.
- "Pioneer Night" (monthly)- turn off all lights and electronics and eat, play games, and read only by candlelight.
- Have a family TV show you watch regularly, like America's Funniest Home Videos. Our kids remember many nights laughing together over this when they were younger.
- Have an Apple Day every fall: Pick apples together and make juice, applesauce, or just to eat.
- Hold a fall Apple Tasting with homemade caramel-apple dip and new-to-you apple varieties.
- Buy or make donuts on the first day of every school year.
- Take a First Day of School picture in the same place every year (by the front door, on the porch, in front of the bus. Make a scrapbook page when they graduate.
- Have an annual big family & friends birthday party close to your child's birthday date (and/or just a small friend one).
- Have special birthday dinners with just the immediate family where the birthday person gets to pick the meal (anything goes - really!) and ends with a Giant Birthday Cookie (because the cake is on the big party...).
- Stay/camp in the same place each year with extended family in the summer.
- Have a weekend snow trip with friends and/or extended family.
- Summer road trips with a trailer or tent camping.
- Ice cream/treat/breakfast out for good grades.
- Celebrate end of a good school year with special dinner in or out and a movie.
- Take a hike during the first cold rain or snow with dad and mom - come back to popcorn and hot cocoa waiting.
- Make a Thanksgiving "thankful tree." Provide scraps of paper and pens near a container and each day of the week of Thanksgiving everyone writes something they're thankful for that day. Hang them from a branch stuck it in a container filled with rocks or just a put them in a basket. Read them at the holiday meal, each drawing one at random to read.
- Decorate for Christmas every year on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving.
- Give special Christmas Eve presents that are the same theme each year: pajamas & slippers; ornaments; crayons and coloring book; new regular book, etc.
- Cut your own Christmas tree - include cocoa (and a snowball fight if you can!). Decorate it together with music and popcorn.
- Celebrate advent by reading a book (like this one of daily readings or this one for a Jesse Tree) or verses and counting down with a special calendar (this one from Melissa & Doug is so cute!). Each day of Advent our kids take turns finding a stocking and ornament to hang on a miniature tree. The tree starts out empty, but by Christmas it is full of ornaments. We light candles and try to have a daily reading, some years from an Advent book and some years verses from the Bible that coordinate with the days leading up to Christmas. This is one of the kid's favorite traditions ever!
- Go out to see a new holiday show or movie, and include a simple dinner if you can.
- Make and decorate Christmas cookies (candies, gingerbread houses or men, etc.).
- Use stamps, glitter, and stickers to make simple gift wrap (use brown or white craft paper), cards, and/or tags. Invite others to join you and make it an annual party- much better than a regular old cookie exchange!
- Have special holiday meals - Christmas Eve is always ham, Christmas day is fish and chips, and there's a special brunch on Christmas morning with favorite foods like real-food monkey bread, maple-mustard bacon, and Christmas eggs.
- Wait until Christmas Eve to put the gifts under the tree to keep the focus on the holiday and not the gifts. Instead, put a fun Christmas Train under the tree instead that the kids can play with.
- Give only three gifts to each child on Christmas to represent the gifts from the wise men.
- Open gifts one at a time, to make Christmas morning last and make it special.
- Attend Christmas Eve services with family and friends.
- Watch a special movie on Christmas Eve (A Christmas Story, White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life are a few of our favorites).
- Read a book about the week before Easter with activities for each day (like A Christ-Centered Easter: Day-By-Day Activities to Celebrate Easter Week).
- Make meringue Easter Story Cookies (truly wonderful- you need to do it at least once with your kids!).
- Make an "Easter Tree" with pussy willow branches and wooden eggs that you put up each year together.
What are some of your family's favorite traditions?
This article has been updated - it was originally published in 2011.
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