How to Create New Family Traditions
The author celebrating Christmas as a child in Chicago
As a child, my family had an arts-inspired Christmas tradition. Surrounded by extended family, all the children (11 of us cousins!) had to perform to receive presents. Needless to say, we learned how to be patient amongst lots of singing, dancing, music and most importantly, laughter.
When January 1 rolled around, our family had cultural traditions—eating rice cake and dumpling soup and a bowing ceremony to pay respect to our elders.
Today, as a parent, I’ve come to understand the importance of childhood traditions and have been inspired to create new ones for my children. Traditions help connect us to the past—to older generations—and task us with the responsibility of passing them on to the next generation. Regardless of culture, religion or beliefs, traditions are about belonging to something greater that is meaningful and relevant to our lives.
I asked a few of my YMCA colleagues to share some of their family traditions with me:
"We play Christmas Bingo—a special bingo board with holiday-themed squares. The prizes are small trinkets that people can swipe from one another, so there are always a lot of laughs."-Donna, Wisconsin
"Growing up in England, we observed the tradition of setting Christmas dessert on fire. The famed figgy pudding cooks for many hours and when it's done, the cook will stick a sprig of holly in it, douse it in warm brandy and light it with a match. The results can be unpredictable, so only adults are advised to do this in a safe environment—and close to a fire extinguisher!" -Juliet, Illinois
"On the East Coast, it's traditional for Jewish families to go to the movies and dine out at a Chinese restaurant on December 25." -Danielle, New York
"On Christmas Eve, our family served oyster stew and lefse—a Norwegian tortilla made with potatoes that are eaten with butter and sugar. Yum!" -Tony, Iowa
"Our family would always pick out a Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend and we would watch The Grinch while decorating." -Bonnie, Florida
"Our tradition was family karaoke! Everyone had to perform at least one song before dinner could be served. During the competition, the family elders served as judges and occasionally, backup dancers. The winner received a championship belt and bragging rights for a whole year." -Omoiye, Pennsylvania
With the holiday season approaching, here are some questions to inspire new traditions for your family. Remember to include younger voices in these conversations.
- What memories do you have of your childhood? Why are they important to you?
- How would you like to make a difference in your community?
- What do you enjoy doing with your family, friends or loved ones?
- Why are the holidays important to you?
- A month after the holidays, what would you want to remember about the celebration?
Traditions can begin any year—try a new one this holiday season!