Family traditions are the glue that holds a family together. They create unique experiences within your family that separate your family from others. Like a secret clubhouse or a secret code, family traditions create a family identity that helps everyone feel connected.
Our Family Traditions
My husband and I are both generic Canadians. I’ve often envied our friends who have strong cultural backgrounds, because they also have strong traditions—foods that must be cooked for certain holidays, things that must be done to mark certain occasions. We don’t really have any cultural traditions, so it’s up to us to create our own traditions for our family.
Every family has traditions, but you may not even think about them. Or you may not notice them until the family falls apart and the traditions stop. There are things I haven’t done since my parents divorced, because those traditions stopped as our family scattered.
A strong family identity also helps children develop a strong and healthy self-identity. Knowing what makes their family unique – its traditions, values, ways of relating to one another – gives children a clear starting point for discovering their own place in the world. ~ Jim Burns, Focus on the Family
Some family traditions are everyday, little things you do on a daily or weekly basis together.
Eat a meal together. When I was growing up, we always woke up at 6 am to eat breakfast with my dad before he had to leave for work at 7 am. We usually listened to Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” and the morning news while eating.
Special weekends. On Saturday mornings, my brother made waffles with fruit and whip cream for breakfast, or something else fancy. He was usually the first one up, so he kept himself busy in the kitchen. Plus, waking everyone up with the smell of fresh waffles was much nicer than making a lot of noise!
Family game. When my extended family got together for Christmas or other occasions, we always played cards. Grandma had learned a version of Rummy from his cousins in the States, and taught it to us. It became our family card game—the go-to game that we usually played (with much laughter and teasing).
Happy families celebrate both the small and big things: the end of a busy week, a good grade, the first day of school, a job promotion, holidays and festivals. The celebrations can be as simple as going to the park together, or as elaborate as throwing a surprise party. Happy families lead to happy children, so make it a point to celebrate as a family often. ~ Daniel Wong, “How to Raise a Happy, Successful Child“
Start a New Year. We almost never stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve and couldn’t care about dropping balls, but we had a family fondue. We sat around the table dipping our food in the pot in the middle of the table and if you’ve ever had a fondue… you know it’s a time of fun and laughter and connection.
Christmas breakfast. Mom made a fancy breakfast for Christmas morning. It usually involved some sort of prep the day before and was always something decadent, like overnight coffee cake or cream-cheese-stuffed French toast.
Summer vacation. One of our friends mentioned that they go to Panorama every summer for a vacation. Last year, she suggested to her kids that they could go somewhere else for a vacation—Vancouver, Seattle, Disneyland. Her kids rebelled! They wanted to go Panorama as usual, because that’s their family tradition, their special memories, their bonding place.
Birthday phone call. My in-law’s always call on our birthdays to sing “Happy Birthday.” One year, when they tried to call me while I was out and sang “Happy Birthday” to my voice mail, I kept their message on my phone until my service provider deleted it (to my disappointment). A birthday doesn’t feel like a birthday until Grandma and Grandpa have called to sing.
Saint feast days. We don’t celebrate Halloween, but my kids love dressing up as their favourite saint every year for an All Saints Day Party. They start planning what saint to be “next year” as soon as the party ends! This tradition helps us learn about our faith and connect with other Catholic families. We also put little treats in their shoes every December for St. Nicholas Feast Day.
Life today is so fast-paced and demanding, it’s important that we find ways to reconnect with each other on a daily basis. Establishing family traditions helps us do just that. Traditions are those special times that bring families together, allowing us to express unity as a family and to create bonds that last a lifetime. ~ Abigail Brenner M.D., Psychology Today
Starting New Traditions in Your Family
Of course, when two people get married, they start new family traditions. They may carry on some of the traditions from their family of origin, or they may choose their own. And as children get older, they may have their own ideas about family traditions to do together.
It’s never too late to add a new family tradition! That New Year’s Eve fondue in my family? It started because Dad thought we were eating meals too fast. My brothers could polish off supper in ten minutes flat. So Dad bought Mom a fondue pot. Mom decided to have a fondue for New Year’s Eve and the rest was history.
If you’re looking for some new ideas, check out this list of 100+ fun family traditions at Focus on the Family. You can search by season, special occasion, or just any time of year!
Family traditions are part of the “language” of a family, a shorthand, symbolic way of relating that everyone understands. As life moves forward, and people grow and change, family traditions keep us connected. For sure, they create memories for everyone to share for a lifetime, and even beyond. ~ Abigail Brenner M.D., Psychology Today
Think about Your Traditions
Take a few moments to write down your family traditions. Ask your husband and kids for their thoughts and ideas. Think about what these traditions mean to your family. Do they connect you, draw you closer to each other? Do they grow your faith? Do they foster family memories?
What traditions do you want to start with your family? Take a look at the calendar. I often think of something that would be fun to do as a family, but if I don’t put it on the calendar or plan something, it doesn’t happen!
Summer is a great time to assess what we’re doing as a family and what we want the coming year to hold. A summer bucket list is a fun way to see what your kids want to do and start some new traditions this year!
What sorts of family traditions does your family have? What do these mean to you?