The importance of tradition has weighed heavily on my mind over the past couple years. My husband and I are of that age where we’ve begun losing parents and suddenly we are the matriarch and patriarch of this crazy little Lynch family. The elders are gone. The aunties and uncles and grandparents are gone and we’ve become solely responsible for instilling heritage, values and memory into our children. It’s a daunting task in many ways and there are moments when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Tradition is such an emotional topic, especially when there are children involved, but I think there’s substantial enough value in creating and carrying on tradition that it necessitates sometimes-uncomfortable conversations. So let’s talk about what traditions are, why they’re important and how to develop them.
Merriam Webster defines tradition as:
Definition of tradition
a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom) b: a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
Kinda dry, though accurate. It’s beliefs, it’s customs, blah blah blah. But I love what Megan Cox says in
The Book of New Family Traditions (Revised and Updated): How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day:
“any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”
Love that! It’s the purposeful and intentional repetition that creates a magical moment out of the mundane. It’s not just the doing of the tradition, it’s the knowing that we’re going to do the tradition and that there’s an importance behind it that goes beyond the doing of said tradition. (Does anyone else think that sounds like something Captain Jack Sparrow would say?? lol)
Why are traditions so important?
- Family traditions are an important tie to our culture, both national and familial. They’re a special reminder of our heritage and an amazing opportunity to teach children about our cultural and religious histories.
- It’s a thread that ties the generations together. In many ways, a tradition is a memorial, a remembrance of who we are and how we got there.
- It strengthens a family’s bond and provides a manner of security and comfort which is hard to find in this topsy-turvy world. Just as children thrive with the repetition of bedtime routines, holiday traditions create a stability and constancy that kids crave. There’s a security in knowing that Mamaw is going to bake the turkey, Uncle Chris is going to hand out gifts and Daddy is going to read the Christmas story.
- Traditions connect us to the earth and the seasons and nowhere can that be seen as prominently as a farming community such as ours.
How do we go about creating traditions if we don’t have them already?
- First, start slow. Take the time to decide the purpose you’re searching for behind a new tradition and try to incorporate facets of old traditions into the new. The familiarity and constancy will serve you well.
- Create, change or drop what doesn’t work. Oh, I know, this one might sting a bit, but if you’re looking to create memories and long-lasting traditions, you have to be flexible enough to bend when something isn’t working. That may stir up some uncomfortable feelings at first, but remember that the point of traditions isn’t just to tie us to the past but to give us hope for the future.
- Make it personal and fun! Tradition shouldn’t be drudgery and only you know what will work in your particular circle. I’ve read these great traditions that people celebrate around Thanksgiving where they all stop and write down something they’re thankful for and then they read them afterwards, over pie and coffee. Ugh. While I love the idea on paper, application is a different story. Do what works for you, not that family.
So how about some fun ideas to get you started on the road to family traditions? I don’t think they have to be particularly impressive or expensive activities to be of value. In our family, when I was a young girl, the opening of the gifts always began at 6pm promptly and not a minute sooner, no matter how we begged, pleaded, moaned or whined. Instead of a big meal, we ate cookies and finger foods and drank special Christmas punch at my Mamaw’s house. Now with my own children each Christmas Eve, Santa loses/hides the stockings and the kids spend a half an hour hunting the house high and low for them. Which gives Mom and Dad and extra half an hour of sleep. (Yeah. Great tradition!) Easter baskets are always hidden too, but the most excitement is when someone loses a tooth. There is always a trail of fairy droppings (confetti) from the back door to the lucky recipient’s room and a dollar bill folded into a fancy origami figure. I don’t know why, but that’s a big, Big deal. My kids are older and don’t believe, but they still anxiously anticipate hunting for the stockings and Easter baskets. Our 4th of July tradition is to drive down to the county fairgrounds and sit in the bed of the truck playing card games while we wait for the fireworks show to begin. On Black Friday, we decorate the tree, on Beggar’s Night we battle it out with our church family for the best trunk or treat decorations, on the first Wednesday of December we serve a community meal at our church for our Village festival, and on the last day of school before Christmas break, Petunia always delivers small packages of homemade baklava to teachers and school staff that she particularly loves . Not impressive, not expensive, but we do it every single year and that’s what makes it so meaningful.
Still not sure what to do?
- How about a bank-holiday feast? Is there a day the whole family is home from school/work and you can enjoy a special meal together? Bring out the fancy china and do it up!
- Is there a cause or a charity that you think is worth supporting? Make a weekly family event out of it.
- Churches offer any number of activities, especially around the holidays: community meals, festivals and volunteer opportunities. Pick one and do it…every…single…year.
- Make an annual, local road trip. I have no desire whatsoever to go to Disneyland, but I love driving to Amish country during the fall harvest to see the sheaves of wheat drying in the field. And the kids love to laugh at the horse poo in the road. Psssh.
- What about performing random acts of kindness? Say on the first day of every month, your family goes out and kindness-bombs total strangers in whatever manner you see fit.
- Visit nursing homes and sing carols or go to the shelter and help with strays.
The possibilities are literally endless. Just commit to creating a tradition, decide the purpose behind the tradition and let your imagination run! I’d love to hear what you come up with, so let me know! Til next time!