Does the holiday season bring you more joy or stress? Building holiday traditions into your family celebrations can help cut down on the stress level as well as have lasting positive effects on your children.
It happened by accident. For two years in a row, I happened to make cookies as we put up our Christmas tree. We happened to wait until the tree was going up to put on our favorite Christmas music. And then the next year, the kids said, “Are we going to bake cookies and listen to music while we put up the Christmas tree?” I didn’t have a plan to do things the same way year after year, but so it was. We had started a family tradition. Holiday traditions can serve many purposes in our lives. Here are four reasons to prioritize traditions in your Christmas celebration.
1. Holiday Traditions Build Permanent Memories
I want my kids to have happy memories of being loved and feeling like they belong. When they grow up, maybe they won’t remember exactly what happened in a particular year. By keeping holiday traditions, I can be confident that memories of these things will stay with them for a lifetime.
There are several activities we do year after year: a Christmas Parade, our small town Christmas festival, seeing the lights at our zoo, going to a musical, as well as others. There are also some activities we have tried that we will never do again. I am always looking for cheap or free things we can do as a family to build some memories and focus on something other than “gifts” around the holidays.
2. Holiday Traditions Create a Sense of Belonging
When I was a child, every year my church had a holiday bazaar where the women made different crafts and things that they sold. They used the money to help families in the community throughout the year whenever they had an emergency such as house fire, injury, or job loss. My grandma made hard candy that she would sell in jelly jars she had collected throughout the year. She made several flavors, but my favorite was cinnamon. I have an early, vivid memory of walking up onto her porch on a cold evening, the door fogged up and covered in frost from the warmth and humidity of the kitchen inside contrasted with the bitter cold of late fall. I could smell the cinnamon from the porch.
My grandma loved me and I loved her. Her house was always full of people who loved me. The sights and smells of the holidays and watching my aunts and grandma work together in the kitchen are deeply a part of who I am now. My sisters and I were recently laughing about our almost obsessive love of cinnamon and my sister said it best, “It smells like love.”
3. Traditions Can Help Relieve Holiday Stress
I’m sure most families feel like there is a long list of things around the holidays that just need to get done. That isn’t always a good feeling. The holiday traditions we keep year after year are things that we look forward to. They are breaks from the to-do list. We practically count down the days until Christmas by checking our favorite activities off the calendar. It gives us a nice break from the chores associated with family get-togethers and parties.
The sense of anticipation leading up to one of our traditions helps us as a family to overlook each others’ shortcomings and check our moods. My husband is a volunteer firefighter in our small town and just this weekend we went to the annual “Firehouse Christmas.” When two of my kids were bickering earlier in the day I said to them, “You guys can’t be grumpy, it’s Firehouse Christmas today.” That little reminder was enough to stir up a little joyful anticipation of a fun tradition and snap them back to getting along with each other. The holidays can be stressful. There are some things we all do out of a feeling of obligation, not because we look forward to them. So why not build into your celebration things that you and your family DO look forward to? Make those things your traditions.
4. Holiday Traditions Communicate Love
I hope that the traditions we keep in our family, whether silly or serious, are pouring love deep into the souls of our kids. I hope that the sense of belonging that we are instilling by doing things together can pull them through the tough times of loneliness that everyone inevitably faces. Last year as we put up the tree we were laughing and really having a great time together. My oldest daughter says, “I like this day almost as much as the day we open presents.” Wow. I was so thankful to hear her say that. Toys will come and go, but the feeling of happiness and love will hopefully last much longer. By building memories together, we are really building resilience and security. Our holiday traditions are speaking to our kids, “You belong. You are loved. You are home.”
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