Mail to Friend
Creating Meaningful Family Traditions
family traditions provide parents with an invaluable tool for carrying out
their divine responsibility to rear children in love and righteousness. As
families establish and follow traditions, each family member is strengthened
and the family as a whole grows in unity and love.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World
states that wholesome family recreation is important
in building successful families. By creating traditions that bring the family
closer to God, parents can strengthen the bond between family members, fortify
commitment to religion, and teach important principles they want their children
to understand and live by.
What are Family Traditions?
are practices or beliefs that create positive feelings and are repeated at
regular intervals. They're more than routines, which are ordinary, everyday activities that require no special
behavior and involve little emotion. Often traditions are handed down from generation
to generation, but every family can create its own traditions as well. Some
traditions are based on God's commandments, such as praying before meals.
Others come from cultural or ethnic heritage, such as serving dumplings on cold
The Value of Family Traditions
cultivate connection between immediate family members and between generations.
Family scholars Nick Stinnett and John DeFrain say that traditions are the
"we always" of families, like "We always make snow ice cream at
the first snowfall," or "We always have games and popcorn on Saturday
night." Because such traditions have meaning that is special to an
individual family, they create feelings of warmth and closeness. By spending
time together in a fun and special setting, family members grow closer.
traditions promote a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging. They also
promote a feeling of safety and security within the family by providing a
predictable and familiar experience. Family members have something to look
forward to which gives them a sense of assurance in a hectic and ever-changing
world. In his book The Intentional Family, family scholar William
Doherty says that as family bonds are weakened by busy lifestyles, families can
stay connected only by being intentional about maintaining important rituals
participation in meaningful traditions helps families overcome an inclination
toward what family scholars call "entropy." In the physical sciences, entropy
is the tendency of a physical system to lose energy and coherence over time,
such as a gas dissipating until it's all but gone. As Doherty explains, an
"entropic family" is one that loses its sense of emotional closeness because
members neglect the family's inner life and community ties.
are ideas for creating meaningful family traditions:
Aim for a
moderate number of traditions.
Families with too few traditions have trouble staying unified. They tend to
forget or ignore important events in family member's lives. Families with too
many traditions, on the other hand, dilute the importance of each tradition.
Moderation is the key.
traditions takes preparation and effort. Parents should first identify a goal
they want a new tradition to help them accomplish. Pick a good time to start
the tradition and think about how often it should be repeated. Decide what
activities will be included and the significance of these activities. Choose
traditions that include every family member and are sensitive to the needs of
all family members. Remember that every family is unique; do what works for
you. Also don't overwhelm the family with new traditions. Pick one or two and
see how things go.
Make sure you
have spiritual traditions
Traditions that bring family members closer to God should be a family's first
priority. Some of the simplest spiritual traditions include praying together,
having regular family activity nights, reading sacred writings together, and
holding regular family councils.
From time to
time, evaluate your traditions.
make sure your traditions are working for your family, it's a good idea for
families occasionally to identify and evaluate traditions they already have and
make plans to add new ones. Here are suggestions for doing this:
family together and ask someone to be scribe. Then list on a piece of paper all
the family traditions you can think of. You may have more than you realized.
Some traditions are such a part of family life that you may not think of them
right away, like pancakes on Saturday mornings or family prayer morning and
the list and discuss how much you enjoy each tradition. Are there some you'd
like to do more? Are there some that are no longer enjoyable? Be willing to
adjust or discard traditions that don't help the family.
Cross off any
traditions you decide to drop. Put a star by any you'd like to do more often.
traditions you might like to add. Keep the list handy in a visible area for a
few days to see if you think of anything else.
Common Family Traditions
Below is a list of
traditions many families have continued through the generations or adopted as
new traditions. As you evaluate your family's traditions, use this list as a
resource for possible new traditions:
each family member chooses his or her favorite menu, then
everyone except the birthday person helps prepare the meal.
No one can go to
bed until they've told each member of the family "I love you."
milestones such as baptism or confirmation, a child is given a book of
For religious or
historical figures the family especially admires, celebrate that person's
Dad's day to make breakfast with the kids.
choosing a topic of discussion at the dinner table.
Have a special
dinner plate to be used by a family member who has a reason to celebrate.
Tell a story
every night before bed.
Keep a family
journal, letting everyone write in it.
Establish your own
holidays, such as an "Unbirthday Party."
that explore the value of traditions, such as "Fiddler on the Roof."
Thanksgiving cards (instead of Christmas cards).
dress up as pilgrims and Indians.
Help serve food
at a homeless shelter or invite those without families of their own to dinner.
candies on each dinner plate, then for every piece of candy have each person at
the table say one thing they are thankful for.
Have each member
of the family draw a name of another member and make a handmade gift for that
Collect or make
one ornament each year that has special meaning to the family.
children write letters to Santa and place them in their stockings. Write
letters in reply from Santa commending each child for his or her good behavior
As a family,
make gingerbread houses, candy trains, or ornaments.
As a family, put
up Christmas/Hanukkah decorations, decorate the tree or light the menorah as a
family, making it an event with music and good food.
singing the songs of the season, and give a small gift to the people you visit.
playing dreidels and eating latkes and other
traditional festivities of the Hanukkah season.
Act out the
Drive around the
neighborhood looking at lights and listening to Christmas music.
For every day in
December, burn a candle while participating in a family activity.
Christmas stories and read them to small children.
Each year, add a
special emblem to stockings signifying an important event from that year.
Give the Lord
the gift of a personal improvement goal for next year. Write it on a piece of
paper, place it in the manger, read it next Christmas or Hanukkah, and evaluate
put on a piece of straw in the manger for every act of service they do in
December. By Christmas it should be soft and comfortable for the baby Jesus.
winter camping. Make a fire and
share stories and memories from the past year.
outside for the baby New Year to fill with candy and small toys.
stockings for a refill.
for the family as a whole.
Draw names for
secret pals the week before Valentine's Day. Perform small acts of service and
kindness for that person, then reveal your identities
on Valentine's Day.
heart-shaped cookies and give them to those in your neighborhood or
congregation who are alone.
Have a red dinner
with red jello, red mashed potatoes, beets, cherry cake, etc.
and tell them you love them.
Visit the graves
of family members early in the morning and talk about Jesus Christ's
Roll Easter eggs
down a hill, symbolizing the removal of the stone that blocked Jesus' tomb.
Dye Easter eggs
Passover service together, including prayers, scripture readings,
songs, hand washing, a meal (including the eating of hard-boiled eggs as a
symbol of the renewal of springtime), eating of green and bitter herbs,
unleavened bread, and wine (fruit of the vine).
Written by Marisa Beebe,
Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor,
Doherty, W. J. (1997). The intentional family. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Stinnett, N., & DeFrain, J. (1985).
Little, Brown, & Company.
Stinnett, N., Stinnett, N, Beam, J.
& Beam, A. (1999).
Fantastic families: 6 proven steps to
building a stronger family.
West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Company.