Traditions, Old and New, Bond Families Together

As parents, we know that the special routines we pass down to our children today become their visual memories tomorrow. Author Alex Haley said, “In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, and a bridge to our future. Family traditions help us to embrace our stories, accept our bents, and celebrate our kinship.”

According to Dolores Curran, author of the award-winning book Traits of a Healthy Family, a healthy family has a strong desire to honor its history and traditions. In our fast-paced world, family traditions help to remind us of the importance of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Family traditions remind us of who we are and where we came from. These rituals are comforting and predictable ways to help us slow down and enjoy one another. It is in these rituals that we gain a sense of warmth, belonging and security.

Heather Yancy-Masso, Tulsa mom of three young children, said, “Family time is very important to me. Our life is fast paced and busy! As my children grow and become busier with sports and activities, I find family time is harder to come by.”

Not wanting to let this important time pass her by, Heather decided to create a new tradition she calls family night. Every Friday night her kids get to choose where they want to eat. This makes it simple because they get to focus on just spending time together “eating, talking, and laughing.” When I asked her how important family traditions are to her she said, “Very important. Without the love of family and traditions, I don’t feel like our lives would be complete. These traditions give our family a sense of belonging and remind us of where we came from.”

According to Martie Coetser Pozyn, mother of two children and grandmother of four grandchildren, celebrating birthdays, holidays, and special occasions have become more elaborate, complicated and expensive. She said it is harder to keep traditions today than when she was growing up because there are so many things that pull relatives apart.

“At Christmas time many people are choosing to take a vacation, apart from the extended family, instead of spending time with their relatives,” said Martie.

If you, like Martie, are looking for ways to simplify birthday, holiday and other family celebrations, there are simple and inexpensive ways to create lasting memories. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Leave a special note in your child’s lunchbox.
  • Turn the TV off and have dinner together at the table.
  • Sing songs and dance together.
  • After dinner, go for a walk together around the block.
  • Have a family camp-out (or camp-in) on the weekend.
  • Take the family out for breakfast once a week.
  • Have a birthday party at home with homemade games, gifts and treats.
  • Start a backwards menu day where you eat chicken and rice (or your favorite dinner meal) for breakfast and end the day with your favorite breakfast meal.
  • For holiday celebrations have a potluck dinner or make something simple, so less time is spent on the meal and more time is left to enjoy one another.

Curran said, “A family’s clanship embraces its legends, its characters, its history, its focal places and persons, its hospitality, its network, its deceased, its elderly, its babies, its traditions, and its rituals.” Whether it is through special food, weekly activities or holiday celebrations, traditions form the fond memories of childhood.

Special Time Together

Spending time with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother has always been important to Heather Masso. Twenty years ago, the women in her family started taking an annual trip to Branson, Missouri. What started as a pre-Christmas shopping trip is now one of the most important traditions for this family.

“Twenty years ago after Thanksgiving break my grandmother, great-grandmother and mother decided to take a trip to Branson to shop for Christmas gifts and see the Rockettes,” Heather said. “It was during one of our early trips to Branson that we stumbled upon the holiday light show at Silver Dollar City. Shopping, the holiday light show and the Rockettes quickly became one of our favorite things to do together on this trip.”

Although her grandmother and great-grandmother have passed away, Heather, along with her mom, sister and sister-in-law continue to celebrate their annual trip to Branson.

“Now that we have kids, we hardly ever shop, or go to a show,” she said. “Instead, we look forward to seeing the smiles on our kids’ faces as they ride the roller coasters and view the spectacular light show at Silver Dollar City.”

Heather and her family stay in a four-bedroom condominium where they share meals, laughter and memories.

“My mom looks forward to our trip as much as we all do,” she said. “Before we even leave the condo, she reserves our room for the next year. When my dad gets a new vehicle, my mom asks him to get a Suburban because that’s the only car that is big enough to haul us, along with the kids, to Branson for our annual trip.”

Heather’s mom Beverly said, “It’s fun buying them a matching outfit and having their pictures made with Santa [each year]. Rain, sleet or snow, we are there.”

A Link to the Past

For Lyndsey Henson, a working mom of three children, maintaining family traditions is an important way to educate her children about their family history. Lyndsey said passing on her family traditions to her children is one way she honors her parents and grandparents.

The Henson family schedules their rituals and traditions on the family calendar at the beginning of each month to make sure these important traditions are not overlooked. Lyndsey said that this past October her family got together to schedule their annual visit to the pumpkin patch where each child gets to pick out a pumpkin, run through the maze and enjoy the harvest festivals. They end the visit to the pumpkin patch with a family picture.

“Family traditions are opportunities to strengthen family bonds,” Martie said, “to once again realize that life should not be taken for granted, to come to terms with the past and the present, and to acquire new hope and strength for the future.”

A Bridge to the Future

After marriage, families may need to modify their traditions to accommodate new family members. Family members who make a concerted effort to welcome each new member of the family help new members feel like they have an important role in the family.

Lyndsey said her family plans a big birthday bash for each member of the family where they gather at the church to enjoy dinner, cake and spending quality time together.

“[My husband] Rob’s family didn’t make a big deal about birthdays, so he thought my family’s birthday celebrations were a little strange at first,” Lyndsey said. “Now he looks forward to my family throwing him a birthday party every year!”

After marriage, remarriage or divorce families need to work together to find different ways to celebrate family traditions. The Henson family combined traditions they both enjoyed growing up.

“My husband’s family liked to watch movies together and my family liked to drive around to look at Christmas lights. We combined the two [traditions] by doing both,” she said.

Holding on to Heritage for Families that Live Apart

Today many families live far apart from each another, making it less likely that children will spend time with their extended family during the holidays. When family members move away from the family, new traditions can be formed to help the family feel connected while apart.

Grandmother Dianne Mendez has created a new tradition with her grandchildren she calls mentoring with letters. Since her grandchildren live a great distance from her, she sends them letters. Dianne calls her letters “mentoring letters” because in them she shares some of the life lessons and family values she learned growing up. She shares her family history with her grandchildren in order to teach them about their history and strengthen the bond she has with them.

Even when there is a great geographical distance between family members, important holidays can be celebrated through letter writing, FaceTime or Skype. Although the family has grown and some traditions have changed, Dianne said, “One Christmas tradition we always have regardless of where we are is when Ed’s mom (her mother-in-law) makes homemade tamales with Spanish rice.” Her mother-in-law makes homemade tamales and ships them to the extended family members for the Christmas day meal to reach out to each member of the family.

“It is important for grandparents to keep in touch with their extended family during the seasons so they feel a sense of continuance in their lives,” Dianne said. “They [children and grandchildren] need to see the family holding together, in spite of difficulties, to remind them that life continues forward as we hold each other up. In today’s world, there are many changes and trends that affect how we live our lives, some good, some bad, but if we hold together during the important times, such as holidays, it will help our children and grandchildren believe there is strength in the family.”

Why Traditions?

Traditions and rituals can be as simple as going out for breakfast once a week or as elaborate as taking a yearly trip together. As you think of the family traditions you want to keep or create, consider the following:

Does the tradition:

  • Bind your family and create a sense of belonging together?
  • Create opportunities to interact in unique ways?
  • Create closeness?
  • Mark holidays or other special days such as birthdays?
  • Allow flexibility?


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