The Way We Always Do It

Traditions are a key part of family togetherness. A few simple rules will help you establish some with yours.

Huddled together, shielding ourselves from the cold winds blowing off Lake Michigan, my daughter passes me a deviled egg. It’s March 20, and come rain, snow, blustery winds or occasional mild temperatures, our family goes on a picnic to celebrate the first day of spring.

We all have family traditions. Some are as simple as making pizza every Saturday night; others are more elaborate, such as an annual Christmas Eve pageant. Whether silly like throwing a birthday party for the dog or solemn such as lighting candles for Advent, traditions define the identity of a family.

Quite a few traditions spring up on their own and weave themselves into the fabric of who we are as a family. Our annual spring picnic, for example, started on an unseasonably warm first day of spring in 1975. Sometimes families don’t remember why or when a tradition started, but still they say, “This is the way we always do it.”

Creating Your Way

These rituals become our link to the past, enjoyment in the present and hope that the specialness of family will go on. Many parents have learned that established ways of doing things simplify life. If the Christmas tree is always chopped down on the day after Thanksgiving, family members can plan well in advance. Ditto with the neighborhood barbecue on Labor Day. From menus to birthdays to annual events, why change if it is working? Plus, as any parent will note, kids enjoy repetition — same story, same video, same game. Kids love traditions for this reason.

Three Components of a Good Tradition

The first component of a good tradition is that it needs to be chosen.

  • Keep it simple. Activities that focus on people and values are usually long lasting. Despite their enjoyment, ideas that are too elaborate or expensive might have a short life span.
  • Talk to your spouse. It always seems that if your spouse’s family spent lots of money on gifts, then your family probably specialized in stocking stuffers. If the in-laws opened gifts on Christmas Eve, yours celebrated Christmas morning. So make a point of talking about which traditions you’re going to keep from each family and what new ones you’ll start.
  • Involve your kids. Children love to participate in something they have helped plan. They’ll probably have many suggestions to offer about family fun as well as special celebrations.

The second component of a good tradition is that it needs to be enjoyed, which is not as simple as it sounds. Many of us have endured traditions that we just didn’t like: getting up at 5 a.m. to open Christmas gifts or cramming too many activities into one day.

The last component is that traditions need to be flexible. Some years circumstances will alter even the most enjoyed and carefully chosen traditions. You always go to your brother’s for Easter, but this year your husband has a new job and works Saturdays. Only a few traditions survive the life span of a family. Many of the best traditions peter out over time. No one carves pumpkins anymore at our house, and we haven’t shared a bedtime ritual in years. Circumstances such as college, marriage or death can end traditions. Sometimes age pulls the plug as each child outgrows the activity.

The photographs, the videos, the memories will linger long after the last homemade valentine is designed. No matter how long they last, traditions make us richer from having celebrated together.

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