The Value of Winter Holiday Traditions and Family Rituals

The Work/Life Team tradition: CANornament for #GivingTuesday
Our Work/Life Team tradition: CANornament for #GivingTuesday

Winter holiday traditions and family rituals are the stuff of rich memories for many grown kids like myself. As a parent educator, I also know that traditions can benefit all members of the household:

  • The repetitive nature of traditions contributes to a sense of comfort and belonging.
  • Traditions can help us maintain connections with extended family, friends and neighbors.
  • Traditions can provide a context to stop and reflect on what’s really important.
  • Traditions can help us create family history that can be passed on through the generations.
  • Last but not least, traditions can be FUN!

Here are a few that I remember from my childhood:

  • My mom was from a large family and there were many aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Gift-giving would be outrageous, so a tradition called “pollyanna” was born. At Thanksgiving, names were pulled from a hat.  Each person got a name (secret) and delivered a present for that person on Christmas Day. A surprise present from a secret giver—so much fun for kids!
  • After the big family Christmas Eve dinner, all the tables and chairs were pulled back, the neighbors arrived, and we danced the night away—young and old alike.
  • My Dad would wear his red long underwear (his attempt at Santa?) and put on a John Philip Sousa March at top volume on the stereo and wake up every adult in the house with a whiskey sour so that kids (already gathered downstairs) could open their presents. 🙂

Of course, as families change, traditions change. When new families form or are blended, there is a need to take the time to discuss the traditions we bring with us.  One parent put it this way, “We all sat down and talked about one thing that was special to us—my partner’s family had always given a special book, and on Christmas Eve, they’d sit by the fire with their books and read (before the chaos if Christmas morning). I love the advent candle, my son loves St. Nicholas’ Day, and my partner’s daughter loved exchanging a special Christmas ornament (the idea being when she left home, she’d have her own collection from the years). Making room for one another’s traditions helped us, I think, weave some of the fabric of our evolved family.”

When I had my own family and we moved overseas for twelve years, our traditions morphed…

  • We had an advent wreath.  Each night for the 4 weeks before Christmas, the boys would light the candles on the wreath and we would sing a carol.  After reading a relevant passage of scripture, each of us would open the greeting cards we received that day sharing memories about those folks and then offering a short prayer for them.
  • The boys and I created a big assembly line and made 150 food packets each year for the street kids in our community.
  • We attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church and then we’d invite folks who couldn’t make it home for the holidays to our house for lasagna and board games.

As I was thinking about writing this blog, I emailed many of you and asked you to share some of your family traditions. Over fifty of you responded!  Here are just a few:

  • We have a Tree Trimming party every year.  We invite everyone, serve lots of goodies, chili, etc., and put out all the decorations.  We get to visit with friends, neighbors and family and when everyone leaves the tree is decorated.
  • We celebrate Diwali with family and friends. We light lamps inside and outside house during 5 days of Diwali celebration, do rangoli (design) outside main door and do fireworks. We go to temple for prayers and rituals.
  • Each year we find out which houses in the area have the most elaborate (read: the tackier the better) holiday light displays and do a tour.
  • Several of you mentioned assembling gingerbread houses and watching movies together as a family.  A favorite was Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation.
  • We have always finished up Christmas Eve in our family by reading The Night Before Christmas out loud before everyone goes to bed.  We have a nice copy of the book, and everyone reads a stanza and then passes it to the next person.  Just kind of a fun way to wrap up the day!
  • Even though we are not Jewish, my father is.  He comes over every day of Hanukkah and lights the Menorah with my kids and recites the prayer.  He teaches them the story of Hanukkah which broadens their understanding of different religions.
  • Our family tradition is to deliver cookies to our Muslim and Hindu neighbors on Christmas Day.   In turn, they deliver treats to us on Eid and Diwali.   It's a great way to experience other cultures and celebrate with neighbors.
  • On Christmas Eve, we get together with some family friends and celebrate Jesus’s birthday.  We have a birthday cake for Jesus, and then we all eat Mexican food.
  • Every year since the kids were small, in early December I pick a Christmas tree ornament that helps us remember something fun about their year. It’s the only gift they get to open on Christmas Eve.  I always write on the box the year, and the significance of the ornament – so we will always remember. As a result, each child has a large plastic bin with their name on it.  We pull the bins down over Thanksgiving weekend, put on Christmas music and get hot chocolate, and then the kids get to decorate the tree. When they move away and have homes of their own, I’m planning to just give them the bin. 🙂
  • We celebrate St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6th. It’s when we exchange stockings. It’s a fun kick-off to the season. I thought my daughter had outgrown it, but last year she specifically asked for its reinstatement. She enjoyed the fun angle we tended to take with stocking stuffers.
  • Since Christmas often gets to be a bit overwhelming, we don’t open all the presents at once.  We spread them out.   Each kid gets one present on Christmas Eve – which is usually PJ’s.  Then on Christmas morning, then get to open Santa presents and their stockings.  Other presents may be hidden with a treasure hunt to find them or may be opened when we go to eat at grammy’s house.  I think spreading out the gifts makes the kids enjoy more of the presents rather than focusing on their favorite.
  • Ever since my son was little, we have adopted a Salvation Army angel who is close in age. My son and I shop together for the boy and he gives me his input as to whether or not he will like what we pick out. Probably 12 years now that my son is 15. We love doing that each year.

About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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