Meaningful 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?
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 winter nights.
The Value of Family Traditions
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.
Effective 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 and traditions.
Regular 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.
Here 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.
- Establish new traditions. Establishing new 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. To 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:
- Gather your 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 night.
- Carefully review 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.
- Finally, list 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:
- For birthdays, 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."
- For religious milestones such as baptism or confirmation, a child is given a book of scripture.
- For religious or historical figures the family especially admires, celebrate that person's birthday.
- Saturdays are Dad's day to make breakfast with the kids.
- Take turns 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."
- Watch movies that explore the value of traditions, such as "Fiddler on the Roof."
- Send out Thanksgiving cards (instead of Christmas cards).
- Have children dress up as pilgrims and Indians.
- Help serve food at a homeless shelter or invite those without families of their own to dinner.
- Place five 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 person.
- Collect or make one ornament each year that has special meaning to the family.
- Have the 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 that year.
- 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.
- Visit neighbors singing the songs of the season, and give a small gift to the people you visit.
- Enjoy time playing dreidels and eating latkes and other traditional festivities of the Hanukkah season.
- Act out the Christmas story.
- 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.
- Collect 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 progress.
- Have children 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.
New Year's Traditions
- Go winter camping. Make a fire and share stories and memories from the past year.
- Leave shoes outside for the baby New Year to fill with candy and small toys.
- Re-hang your stockings for a refill.
- Set resolutions for the family as a whole.
Valentine's Day Traditions
- 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.
- Make 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.
- Call relatives and tell them you love them.
- Visit the graves of family members early in the morning and talk about Jesus Christ's resurrection.
- Roll Easter eggs down a hill, symbolizing the removal of the stone that blocked Jesus' tomb.
- Dye Easter eggs together.
- Enjoy the 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, School of Family Life , Brigham Young University.
- Doherty, W. J. (1997). The intentional family. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Stinnett, N., & DeFrain, J. (1985). Secrets of strong families. Boston: 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.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World reminds parents that they have "a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness . . . to teach them to love and serve one another, [and] to observe the commandments of God" (¶ 6).
One of the most powerful tools for carrying out this sacred duty is righteous family traditions. By establishing and practicing righteous traditions, parents can teach gospel principles, build the bond between family members, and bring their family closer to God. All these benefits make families stronger and help them grow in unity and love. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Children are like trees. When they are young, their lives can be shaped and directed, usually with ever so little effort. . . . That training finds its root in the home".4
What are Traditions?
According to the Church's Handbook for Families, traditions are practices or beliefs handed down from generation to generation or new practices we establish in our families. Some are based on the commandments while others are derived from cultural or ethnic heritage. They may be simple practices like reading stories to young children before bed or more elaborate traditions like serving special food on certain holidays.
Righteous Traditions Strengthen Families
The scriptures emphasize the importance of righteous traditions. In Mosiah 1:5, King Benjamin explains to his sons that through the tradition of keeping records, they are able to read and know the commandments of God. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people practiced many traditions to remind them of the Lord, such as following a special diet, observing feast days, and sacrificing animals. Just as righteous traditions preserved the faith of the Nephites and the Jews, righteous traditions today can help parents and children know of Christ and follow his teachings.
The most important traditions parents form should be centered on the gospel. Elder L. Tom Perry stated, "If we build righteous traditions in our families, the light of the gospel can grow ever brighter in the lives of our children from generation to generation".5 Righteous traditions can bless the lives of children by helping them obtain "enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ".2 Some of the simplest and most important traditions parents should foster are family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, family mealtimes, family councils, and one-on-one time with each child.
All healthy traditions rooted in gospel principles help family members feel that they belong to the family. President Ezra Taft Benson advised, "Foster wonderful family traditions which will bind you together eternally. In doing so, we can create a bit of heaven right here on earth within individual families".1
Unrighteous Traditions Harm Families
Unrighteous traditions can fragment families and lead individuals away from the Lord. Several Book of Mormon peoples practiced unrighteous traditions passed down through the generations, and they all suffered disintegration of their families and societies. Today, we too are vulnerable to traditions that do not promote righteous living. For instance, we might carry on the tradition of using harsh physical punishment with children, or treating our spouse as less than an equal partner. Any traditions that are in conflict with the scriptures or teachings of the prophets must be recognized, evaluated, and discontinued. President Howard W. Hunter said, "Measure whatever anyone else asks you to do, whether it be from your family, loved ones, your cultural heritage, or traditions you have inherited--measure everything against the teachings of the Savior. Where you find a variance from these teachings, set that matter aside and do not pursue it. It will not bring you happiness".6
Below are important family traditions that Church leaders have advised every family to establish:
- Family prayer. Praying together at a regular time and place every day brings the Spirit of the Lord into your home and into the hearts of each family member. Regular family prayer also gives you a chance to teach your children how to pray. As they hear you speak earnestly to Heavenly Father, they will learn about gratitude, faith, humility, repentance, and obedience. They will learn how to seek guidance and how to ask for blessings for themselves and others.
- Family scripture study. Reading the scriptures together at a regular time and place brings many of the same benefits as family prayer. Each family can create its own structure for this time together, such as time of day, length of time, and who reads when. Children who are too young to read can be given other options, such as drawing pictures related to what they're hearing, repeating a few words of a verse, or looking at illustrated books based on the scriptures. As children hear and read the scriptures, they become familiar with the stories and develop a love for the precious truths they contain.
- Family home evening. This is a wonderful time to teach children principles of the gospel. It can include any combination of song, prayer, lesson, activity, and food. When planning family home evening, consider the needs and concerns of each child. For example, if a child is preparing to be baptized, plan a lesson on the importance of baptismal covenants.
- Family mealtimes. Regular meals together provide an opportunity to talk to your children and find out what is going on in their lives. Topics of discussion can range from the day's events to gospel subjects to current events. What matters most is that the family spends time together in a cheerful, casual setting that invites bonding.
- Family councils. Holding regular family councils allow you to involve every family member in family issues. Use these councils to set family goals, discuss problems, make plans, and give encouragement. In this setting, each child learns that he or she is an essential part of the family. Children also learn to listen and to respect one another's feelings.
- Individual time. It's important that you plan regular time for each of your children to spend one-on-one with you. This private time tells your child that he or she is special, and it gives him or her a chance to bring up thoughts or problems that otherwise might go unexpressed. Spend this time in an activity or simply talking. Make sure you leave plenty of openings for your child to talk, and make sure you express your interest, support, and love.3
Below are additional family traditions that can promote gospel learning and invite the spirit into the home:
- Give children their own scriptures on their eighth birthday.
- At the start of the school year, give a father's blessing.
- At Christmastime, reenact the events of Jesus' birth.
- Hold regular reunions for extended family. Many families do this once a year or every other year.
- Participate in community service on a regular schedule.
- Invite the missionaries over for dinner at regular intervals.
- At Sunday dinner, discuss what each person learned during Church services.
- On Sundays, visit grandparents or those who are sick or lonely.
- Have everyone take notes during General Conference, then discuss the notes during family home evening.
- Set aside a regular time for family testimonies.
Written by Marisa Beebe, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life , Brigham Young University.
- Benson, E. T. (1989, November). To the elderly in the Church. Ensign, 4.
- Bible Dictionary. (2000). Holy Bible: King James Version. Retrieved from http://scriptures.lds.org/bd/contents
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1999). Teaching, no greater call: A resource guide for gospel teaching. Salt Lake City, UT: Author.
- Hinckley, G. B. (1996, June). Four simple things to help our families and our nations. Liahona, 3.
- Perry, L. T. (1990, May). Family traditions. Ensign, 19-20.
- Scott, R. G. (1998, May). Removing barriers to happiness. Ensign, 85.