The Value of Holiday Traditions


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  37 comments   :  15,873 Views

When you think back to the holidays of your childhood what comes to mind? What memories come first? For me there are so many but the first are always the things that were considered traditions and part of each year's celebrations.

Traditions create an identity for a family or a group of people. For example, football fans enjoy the tradition of watching the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys play each Thanksgiving afternoon. Once Thanksgiving is over and you hear a bell ringing around town, you expect to see a red kettle and someone representing The Salvation Army.

Traditions are held practices, customs, beliefs, or values handed down from one generation to the next. Through the oral tradition, much cultural and historical information was passed down through generations. Much of the information was captured once a written language was established. Thoughts, stories, and ideas common to a group of people that have been tested to be enjoyable or reliable tend to continue and while those that are not fall away. Children learn by repetition and thrive in the predictability of routine. When they have participated in an activity or routine several times, they come to expect them, which helps reduce anxiety from the unknown and unexpected. Traditions keep loved ones alive in our hearts and minds when they are away from us and create a special bond for years to come. Many of the happy experiences we remember as we age come when we revisit the memories of routines and traditions we enjoyed in our youth. It isn't difficult to establish traditions with neighbors, family and friends. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your time together this holiday season.

Make the Practical Special and Fun - Decorating the home can be a big task just like preparing the food. These are areas you can establish traditions that get the work finished while creating lasting memories of time spent together. Cooking the meal creates the perfect chance to talk and "catch up" on all the stories and activities you just never seem to have time to share. I have a friend that looks forward to Thanksgiving because she and her mother and sister spend the day together in the kitchen preparing the meal while talking and laughing with one another. Her young daughter is now joining in and they are passing the tradition on to her. If you and your friends love the Black Friday madness, maybe going out together to laugh and giggle during the early morning hours as you check things off your gift list is a great tradition to accomplish multiple tasks. Some families have decorating traditions that allow them to have fun while transforming their home inside and out. When I was growing up, we would always go to my grandparents and help set up their lighted Nativity scene they placed on their enclosed front porch. I can still remember grabbing the paper towels and Windex each year to shine the fake jewels that adorned the Magi. When our children were small, we started the tradition of having a Christmas tree decorating party. They help us decorate the tree while enjoying favorite snack foods followed by snuggling up on the couch together to enjoy a beloved Christmas movie. As teens, they still insist on having our traditional party. Our daughter will be going away to college next year and has already informed us that we can't have the decorating party without her.

Serve Others to Help Brighten Their Holidays - Serving others is a wonderful way to give back in recognition for all the blessings we enjoy. Many people would be blessed if we all created a tradition of giving. Perhaps you want to shop together for items to pack a shoebox for a boy and a girl in another country to brighten their holiday. Maybe your family or friends would enjoy working side by side with others in your community on a local Habitat for Humanity project. My grandmother helped start a local Habitat chapter in her community before she developed Alzheimer's disease. She would have loved working side by side with her family to benefit another family. If construction isn't your thing, perhaps serving food is. Locate a food bank or soup kitchen to pack or serve food to help make others holidays more hope filled. Perhaps your family loves to sing. Nothing brightens the day of people at retirement communities or long-term care facilities more than visitors that bring holiday cheer. If your children, niece, or nephews ask about people with signs asking for help as you pass them at an intersection, the holidays are a great time to teach them how to help. Allow children to pack several sack lunches with a peanut butter sandwich, an apple or package of dried fruit and a juice bag and keep them in your car. When the child sees someone asking for help, allow him or her to take one of the prepared meals and offer it with a smile. The joy you will see on all your faces will represent a memory that will last all of you a lifetime.

Incorporate Relevant Religious and Cultural Elements - Religions and cultures are full of tradition and for many families they are the originator of family traditions. One common tradition around the world includes St. Nicholas. Many families recognize St. Nicholas Day on December 6. They may put out shoes or stockings on the eve of his day to awaken the next morning to small gifts, or treats of fruits, cookies, or nuts. This was not a tradition in my home growing up but I learned about it when I went to college. We were instructed to put a shoe outside our door before going to bed on December 5th for St. Nick. In the morning, we would find a piece of fruit and other treat from our dorm coordinator. It was a wonderful college tradition everyone enjoyed. Some of my friends have continued the tradition with their families even today. One of my friends would get new slippers from St Nick each year while she was growing up. She has continued that tradition with her children as well. Whether your family recognizes Santa Lucia Day, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings Day, these religious and cultural observances provide many traditions. Growing up in the Christian tradition, our family had an Advent Wreath that we would light each Sunday for four weeks in anticipation of the candlelight service on Christmas Eve after a gathering with my mother's side of the family. With our children, we started having a Christmas Eve Feast (as my daughter started calling it at the age of 2) before attending church. Since we go earlier in the evening, we have plenty of time to put out cookies, milk and carrots (for the reindeer of course!) and then enjoy It's a Wonderful Life together before reading The Night Before Christmas and heading off to bed. Even as teenagers our children still insist on including ALL of our traditions. When I was young, my brothers and I had to sit at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning until our parents had the tree lit, the coffee made, and the camera ready. This is a tradition I have continue with my own children. In our home, Santa brought three gifts for our children just as the Magi did for the Christ child. When our children were younger, they felt slightly cheated because their friends next door celebrate Hanukkah and receive eight gifts. They have many wonderful traditions as well that make their holiday special and memorable.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of whom you celebrate holidays with, there is always room to create traditions that establish memories or strengthen a bond. It is never too late to start holiday routines and traditions but it is also never too late to change them. This is especially true if you have experienced loss or life changes. When I was five years old, my grandfather suddenly passed away during the summer. A friend of the family suggested a way to make the holidays easier was to NOT follow the traditions and do something completely different. That year tradition went out the window and the entire family went to New York City via train and spent an exciting week seeing the sights. The week was capped off watching the Times Square ball drop right past our hotel window. When my grandmother passed away years later right before Thanksgiving, we enjoyed a wonderful family Thanksgiving meal of pizza instead of the traditional dishes she would have prepared. Sometimes knowing when to change traditions or establish new ones is as important as following them. If your life has recently changed either by choice or by circumstance, consider creating new traditions. Many people dread the holidays because the traditions will never be the same. Establishing new traditions can help you look forward to the holidays while also preserving the memories of traditions past.

Do you look forward to the holidays or do you dread them? What traditions mean the most to you and what new traditions do you think would be good to establish?

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  • 37
    Seems by reading the blog most only think of Christmas! but I also have memories and Easter Traditions that are important as well new Easter hats and out fits going to church as a family and see others in new out fits. Not any more most appear in jeans and every day wear we were taught that Easter was a Special time and we needed to show respect for what Easter true meaning was and that is not chocolate bunnies. a family joining together for a meal and having special foods mine is going to Ham sauce its been in the family since the 1940's
    thanks to a spark member and sharing that the site has a calculator that gives you the calorie count to my surprise it has on 34.4 calories a table spoon and that is more than enough for a severing !!!!! Happy Easter - 4/5/2012   11:53:39 AM
  • 36
    ilove christmas and all the things that go with it,family,love ,giving - 11/25/2010   3:59:03 PM
    I enjoy the season, the music, being with friends and family. I like to reflect on the holiday seasons of the past, with family and friends who are no longer with us.
    It isn't about the money or the gifts...we have other things that are important. The giving of one's time to those who have less is a reward in its own right. If you have no one around, visit the nursing home, homeless shelter or the soup kitchen to make it a brighter day for someone who has no one or nothing. It would be a great "new tradition". Also, most people don't even remember Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, what it meant, or the hardship he and his men suffered. Remember why we have Christmas and have a great one!! - 11/24/2010   12:34:51 PM
  • 34
    Thank you for a beautiful blog on the really important part of the holiday season. My parents both passed away on Thankgiving, as did one uncle. I still love decorating, cooking, shopping, & treasuring the memories. I look forward to everything about the Christmas season, & finding ways to gradually build new traditions.
    Thank you so much for a blog that didn't suggest whipping out one's smartphone to check calories of the next bite, but to treasure the people in our lives!

    And if people don't approve of the holiday "fuss", why click on a link to "Value of Holiday Traditons"?!? LOL! - 11/24/2010   2:21:35 AM
  • 33
    I agree with the comments about having too much STUFF concerning the holidays and starting them earlier each year.
    My family is not great with traditions and it makes me sad. Every tradition I try to start gets shot down, but I keep trying. - 11/23/2010   10:39:00 PM
  • 32
    Sharing Thanksgiving dinner together as a family, then decorating the house and porch the next day for Christmas have been holiday favorites in our family. The newest family tradition is one I'm glad to see that you have included - packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. We have been doing this for the past ten years and love being a part of this outreach. I think we do more boxes every year! - 11/23/2010   10:15:31 PM
  • 31
    Oh, I just LOVE the HOLIDAYS and I'm so grateful for all the blessings I have in my life, especially being an American!! We have traditions like watching Chevy Chase's "Christmas Vacation" and the "RALPH" movie. I buy each one of my children an ornament for their "Tree" collection, so they will have that for years to come. - 11/23/2010   9:49:31 PM
  • 30
    I loved traditions like trimming the tree with my Mom and taking pictures with my Dad---both whom are now deceased. I am doing Christmas traditions with my 3 yo to have him learn about the MEANING of Christmas~lighting the Advent wreath and completing the Advent calendar by putting an item each to complete the manger scene. - 11/23/2010   5:03:00 PM
  • 29
    Gotta Love Holiday Traditions =D - 11/23/2010   3:10:47 PM
  • 28
    MRE1956 -- I think if we wake up in the morning that is the first thing we should be thankful for.

    I love the holidays. I have lost several loved ones during the last 2 months of the year and while those are painful memories for me, I hang on to the good memories and traditions passed on by those who have passed.

    I don't enjoy the Christmas decorations up and on before Thanksgiving but I try and keep a positive attitude. I have so many things to be thankful for that I started a thread in one of my teams. You wouldn't believe how easy it is to find the good in what most view as bad.

    Happy Thanksgiving all! - 11/23/2010   2:52:05 PM
  • 27
    I have started a couple of Christmas traditions with my 3yo last year~~lighting a candle each Sunday before Christmas on the Advent wreath while reading a part of the Christmas story. Another Chritsmas Tradition-- adding an item {sheep,Christmas star,etc.} on a manger scene Advent Calendar while reading the significance of each as the scene is completed with Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.I want my son to know THE MEANING of Christmas and having these traditions sets the tone & focus of Christmas for him. - 11/23/2010   2:16:02 PM
  • 26
    I don't like seeing Christmas products in the stores before HALLOWEEN (yes, it's true!), but I do love the holidays. I like having the time off from work to be with my kids and my husband. I like the food and the company of our family. We have some traditions in our family, like taking the family Christmas picture the weekend after Thanksgiving. But we also leave room for changes each year, too. This year, my folks are in Florida through the holidays, so we are going to my husband's sister's house for Thanksgiving - something we don't usually do. This will be a fun change for us, even though I'll also miss having turkey with my family! - 11/23/2010   11:39:51 AM
  • 25
    I adore the holidays! I try very hard to keep my holiday traditions close to home by making as many of the gifts as I can and avoiding shopping for gifts anywhere besides craft fairs. My family's traditions aren't very cultural though, simply because I've always lived so far away from my extended family; any traditions my grandparents had didn't really get passed down. Now that my parents are splitting up and I'm newly married, my holiday traditions will change even more as I try to find new ways to enjoy the season with everyone.

    Luckily, I know that some things won't change. I have my mom and grandmothers' best cookie recipes, I have holiday music that brings back memories of my mom decorating the house when I was a little kid, and certain rules (no gifts until after a family breakfast on Christmas day, we watch Miracle on 34th Street with our pumpkin pie) will ALWAYS apply for me, especially when I have my own kids to share them with. - 11/23/2010   8:50:55 AM
    For those of us who have experienced major life changes within the past year, maybe it's time to think about establishing new traditions. - 11/23/2010   8:50:46 AM
  • 23
    I love to celebrate holiday traditions. My father is Russian, so when we were little we would celebrate regular Christmas and Russian Christmas. We didn't get double the gifts, we saved a few to be opened on Russian Christmas morning and we always ended up with gift or two from Santa on the second morning as well. Now that I'm married, I still celebrate Russian Christmas with my husband and my God children. We actually planned our Christmas themed wedding to fall inbetween our two Christmas'.
    This year we're helping the community by adopting a few needy families and providing them with gifts instead of our own familes. - 11/23/2010   8:44:18 AM
  • 22
    I can easily relate to all of the comments so far. I have a love/hate for the holidays. I don't care for all the commercialism that has develope over the years and that every year Christmas seems to show up earlier and earlier in the stores. I refuse to "buy" into it and by pass it. Plus, I don't know why you have to buy new stuff every year? Traditions? Well, mine have all passed on. Since my family has shrunk (I'm all that's left except for one uncle and cousins and they live far away) anything that I grew up with is gone. Just memories. This weekend I will decorate for the Christmas holidays and enjoy taking out the little things that bring back memories of being home for the holidays. My dislike for fall turns to a warmth and comfort for the holidays. Like many others, I too, have lost most all my family members this time of year - too many to list. But I celebrate their memories and enjoy the holidays. Often fixing their traditional food even if it is just for me. I now share the holidays with a very dear friend, her husband and kids and sweet,sweet grand daughter who is a "grand niece". I have filtered into their traditions and enjoy spending the days with them. Life goes on no matter what the calendar says. You make the holidays or any day for that matter, what YOU make it. Commerical or not, you make the choices. I wish all of you a very warm, healthy, holiday season. I'm going on a hike tomorrow and will begin Thanksgiving day with a 5 K run! Happy Holidays. - 11/23/2010   7:21:59 AM
    I love December because I am Ásatrú and we celebrate Yule. It's a string of Yule celebrations that actually began last month with Winternights. I am friends with Ásatrúar from New Hampshire to Philadelphia so there are sumbels and blóts every weekend to bring light and warmth to the dark and cold. Then because my family is Christian we have the traditional dinner on the 25th, though when my boyfriend no longer works on Christmas we will made a new tradition of watching the re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. Hooray for the holidays!! - 11/23/2010   7:11:17 AM
  • 20
    TWOOFTHREE...You don't have to read them.
    - 11/22/2010   11:52:09 PM
  • 19
    Ah, the holidays........On one hand I look forward to them, on the other, not so much. Both of my parents are gone and I try to carry on some of our old family traditions. I have a 6 year old granddaughter, so I try to see the holidays through her eyes. On the down side, I work at the post office and the whole month of December is one big blur most years. I just count how many more days until it's over. - 11/22/2010   5:52:53 PM
  • 18
    My husband and I are starting our own new tradition (hopefully it will be a tradition) and going to Hawaii for Thanksgiving. I'm not going to care about not eating turkey when I'm warm on the beaches of Waikiki. - 11/22/2010   2:20:58 PM
    What a Wonderful blog. How great it was to read the other traditions of the Holiday other than the 'feasting'. It opened my eyes and my heart to possible new (since my kids are all grown and out on their own) traditions for my husband and me. Thanks for reminding us to think about other things besides the food! - 11/22/2010   1:43:28 PM
  • 16
    Holidays weren't fun growing up. I'm trying to create my own traditions so that this time of year will be fun! - 11/22/2010   1:23:11 PM
    We're trying to continue some of the Holiday traditions but it is going to be a VERY different year for us. My husband passed away in August and my 16 yo Daughter is both comforted by the sameness yet saddened that Dad is missing them. So confusing! - 11/22/2010   12:08:41 PM
  • 14
    I think making new traditions is part of life. Relatives who die are missed and remembered. New relatives are welcome. Each brings a slight change to traditions and all are fine with me. The only things that remain constant are going to midnight mass and sharing a great meal on Christmas Day. Maybe because those are the only things that really matter. - 11/22/2010   10:55:03 AM
  • 13
    I admidt that I look forward to the food the most. Lefse, Herring, traditional cookies/ sweets, carmels, futges, and my cousin's baklava. Our family gave up on the sit down meal for Christmas years ago cause all of us just wanted to get together and spending time in the kitchen was not necessary. Now we bring our own main food and eat together and then snack the rest of the evening on our favorite things. Its a mess to track calories, but I start the evening with a big salad and some lean protein and keep my portions small going forward. I do have a little of everything as I don't eat this food very often and it's my favorite things. Adding in my regular workouts I can afford to splurge on the ocassional evening. - 11/22/2010   10:28:13 AM
  • 12
    I have wonderful memories of my Grandmothers and the traditions associated with them. Those memories keep me motivated to establish traditions and memories for my own grandchildren, even though we live miles away and I am very busy. Making those memories with my own children is worth the cost. - 11/22/2010   10:07:42 AM
  • 11
    For Thanksgiving every year I buy a white table cloth (a flat bed sheet works too) and fall color fabric paint. I cover the table and as guests arrive, they put their handprint on the table. We use sharpie markers to put name/date under each print. To see our kids handprints grow....grandma's handprint when she passes.....sweet, sweet memories. - 11/22/2010   9:52:43 AM
  • 10
    I LOVE Chanukah, and look forward to it every year. I make traditional foods, have a big party, and send the leftovers home with friends. I also decorate - not as much as my mother did, but more than DH's family did - it just makes me happy to see my stars and decorations and menorahs.

    I think holidays are all about family, traditions, culture, religion. The fuss and the hype are all commercialization, and can be ignored. (If we ignore it, will it finally go away?) - 11/22/2010   9:50:44 AM
  • 9
    I enjoy spending time with family and friends. . .then we let each other know how we were blessed during the year & Thank God for it. - 11/22/2010   9:16:00 AM
  • 8
    Not to be nitpicky, but it's the Detroit LIONS. That's not why I replied. :)

    I look forward to the holidays. First, because they don't have anything to do with material things for me. If I can afford to buy something for my son and my goddaughters, then it's great. If I can't, I don't sweat it. Christmas doesn't have anything to do with "things" for me and my son. It is foremost a celebration of Christ's birth (even if that's not His exact birth date).

    As far as traditions...My son and I always put up our tree and some decorations, whether there are presents to go under the tree or not. We also love to listen to Christmas music and one of our local radio stations starts playing non-stop Christmas music around mid-November, so we make it a point to listen for it to begin. There is one particular tradition that goes along with the Christmas music...My son was born 1 week before Christmas (talk about a great gift!) and I used to sing "The Christmas Song" (you know, chestnuts roasting on an open fire...) as a lullaby to him. And every year, as we listen to the Christmas music, I remind him of that and we cuddle up together (even though he's way too big for cuddling now) and we sing it together. He says he'll sing it to his kids for their 1st Christmases. - 11/22/2010   8:56:04 AM
    It is very disturbuing how secular, humanist and materialistic modern society has become as evidenced by the generic "holiday" (meant to encompass pseudo-religious, pagan and made-up "traditions" in December) taking the place of "Holy Day," a specifically Christian term and designation for 12 major events surrounding salvation history. This time of year is about the Incarnation of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ--from November 15 when the lenten season begins through the week-long celebration of the Event starting on the evening of December 24. All the other "traditons" mentioned in the article have absolutely nothing to do with this Truth. - 11/22/2010   8:53:44 AM
  • 6
    I really like the comment about changing up traditions. This year is the second holiday season for my children & I since I separated from their father. Its my turn to do Thanksgiving dinner, and I decided to make a menu that I know my picky eaters will eat and that includes my favorite dishes but not a lot of extras. For instance, I won't make mashed potatoes this year, because no one will eat them. I will have sweet potato fries instead. I'm not roasting a whole turkey, just a turkey breast. And because my kids (7 yr old twins) love pizza, there will be pizza on the table as well. - 11/22/2010   8:19:15 AM
  • 5
    The Holidays can be dreadfull or exciting. It is understood that the Holidays for many represent dreaded and painful memories...the loss of loved ones, the absence of a family member, the loss of a pet, the astronimical expence of the Holidays. In sum, the Holidays are a part of Most peoples lives and Life-in general, is what we make it!
    For me, the Holidays represent both...Happy and sad. Happy because I enjoy the traditions of the festivities and the children...they need tradition, Sad because I to have lost many loved ones and currently have a grandson in the hospital that will not be home for the Thanksgiving...and possibly Christmas Holidays however, life and traditions must go on...for the other children...and yes for me. This continum of life and tradition maintains emotional health. As for those who have found themselves in a deep depressed slump and you can;t climb your way out, I would lovingly suggest you seek professional help. Yes, I recognise this may upset some but it is only said in kindness...I have been where you are and know first hand that...they make pills for that! LOL and...I'm much better now! ;-)
    Please take no offense to my comment personaly regarding depression...I truly mean no ill. I do hope everyone has a wonderful Winter Soultice. (Holiday)
    Elizabeth - 11/22/2010   8:17:21 AM
  • 4
    I'm trying to figure out what to make of the holidays. This was always a difficult time in my family growing up and the typical household gatherings that occur just haven't happened for my family for well over 15 years. Until this Christmas. My grandfather's death has somehow brought me, my grandmother, my aunt and my mother all together under one roof this Christmas, and I'm trying to remain open to a new conception of the holidays. What was once a religious event for me is now secular, what was once a little girl is now an adult woman. There's no reason I can't rewrite the meanings and traditions for the benefit of my own family (my husband and future children), and for my family of origin, which in a way is brand new too. - 11/22/2010   8:05:24 AM
    I disagree with the previous response. I love the holidays and appreciate the traditions my family has shared over the years. We love to go shopping on black friday and decorating the house while listening to Christmas music, and watching White Christmas together. I love these traditions because they represent wonderful family memories. I look forward to starting even more traditions with my family.
    Nice article.
    Mary - 11/22/2010   7:13:15 AM
    There's too much fuss, and too much hype being whipped up, over the holiday season. Does there really need to be a gazillion articles on the subject?

    It's being overdone.

    2/3 - 11/22/2010   6:50:55 AM

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