Building Strong Holiday Traditions

If there is one thing I love about this time of year, it’s the anticipation of the holiday season. Thanksgiving conjures images of pumpkin, gourds and Indian corn; a beautifully set table brimming with platters of savory-smelling dishes, including my mother’s oyster dressing and Grammy’s pumpkin pie; and family members holding hands around the table in thoughtful silence, remembering all for which they are thankful.

Christmas is a collection of memories stretching well into my childhood, a mishmash of tinsel, ornaments and colorful lights, the scent of pine in crisp air, Christmas carols and Christmas dishes, wooly sweaters, a doll house, a rabbit fur coat, midnight church service and new pajamas. There is no organization to these thoughts, only memories that reflect the past and the traditions that have been handed down in my family for years, with each generation adding its own individuality to time-honored customs. Building strong, lifelong traditions is a Mom job that I take very seriously. Whether you’re picking out the perfect Christmas tree, lighting a menorah or celebrating the first harvest of Kwanzaa, the traditions of the season are an important part of a family’s history and celebration. I want my children to look back on their childhoods with nostalgia. I want them to think about holidays past with warmth in their hearts and a desire to continue the traditions with their own families someday. That begins by creating strong family traditions within our own home.

Of course, merging family traditions can be tricky. I’ll never forget the first Christmas my husband and I spent as a married couple. I was so excited to introduce him to my family’s traditions: a live Blue Spruce trimmed with colorful lights, stockings stuffed with books and small, special gifts chosen with care from favorite boutiques and Santa’s bounty displayed openly near the chimney on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, my husband’s family traditions were in complete contrast to mine. A live Christmas tree was unthinkable (fire hazard), and colored lights were considered tacky; stockings were stuffed with toothbrushes and dental floss, basic necessities that could be picked up at the local drugstore; and all Santa’s gifts were wrapped and hidden beneath the tree. Needless to say, many tears were shed that first Christmas as we struggled to devise the perfect holiday.

Fortunately, throughout the years, we learned the value of compromise and have even grown to love and appreciate each other’s family traditions. This melding of traditions is what makes each family’s holiday unique and special and creates the wonderful memories we all long to instill in our children. Here are some simple tips to help you pave the way to a special and memorable holiday season, this year and for many years to come:

1. Don’t forget to remember! Children love to learn about their parents’ and grandparents’ pasts. Like the song says, tell them the old, old stories. Every year as we decorate the Christmas tree, I tell my kids about the ornaments I have collected, where they came from, who gave them to us, why they are special. I tell them about their grandmother’s favorite holiday in Hawaii and about the year their father nailed the Christmas tree to the wall. Occasionally they groan and finish the story for me. That’s OK! It simply tells me my hard work is paying off. Holiday memories are a fun part of our holiday tradition, and they can be for you as well.

2. Make decorating a family affair. Moms, if you’re like me, you like things done a certain way. But decorating for the holiday season is no time to get territorial or too picky. Plan an evening or a weekend to pull the boxes from the attic and start decorating. So what if all the ornaments are knee-level on the tree or the family dreidel is displayed under the piano instead of on the mantle? Letting the kids help with the decorating will get everyone in the spirit of the season. (And this is a great time to share the old stories and reminisce as well.)

3. Build your own family traditions. Going to Grandma’s house for the holidays is great, but creating traditions in your own home can be just as rewarding and oftentimes necessary when Grandma’s house is not an option. Think about Grandma and all she did to make the holiday special. Was it her secret turkey and dressing recipe, the ceremony of lighting the menorah candles or a game the family always played on Christmas Eve? A gift exchange? A favorite movie you watched every year on TV? Was it her excitement when you arrived? Do your best to recreate Grandma’s “special something” for your own kids. And don’t be afraid to add something new to the lineup: a hayride, volunteering in a soup kitchen, an open house for friends or a cookie exchange. These entertaining activities are just one step away from being a new, fun family tradition in your home.

4. Make it magical. People always talk about the magic of the season, and I know just what they are talking about. There is something about the holiday season that just makes you feel good inside. No matter what holiday you are celebrating, being with family and loved ones is what makes the occasion magical. Holidays are not about getting lots of cool gifts, not even about the delicious potato latkes, they are about giving of yourself and the joy that family brings to your heart. By witnessing the spirit of the season in you, children learn what the magic of Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are all about. So share the magic!

5. Make it a priority. Creating family traditions isn’t always easy. On more than one occasion, I have been met with resistance from my dear ones. Moms, you must persevere. Everyone may not jump instantaneously on the bandwagon to wear the fruit-laden Happy Kwanzaa headpieces you made. A tradition begins with an idea. The good ones stick around for another go; others fade from memory into the abyss of “Remember the year we did that!” All serve their purpose in our quest to build timeless holiday family traditions.

Courtney Burkholder

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