When I was very young my siblings and I had a book called, “A Time to Keep: The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays”. The book, which is beautifully illustrated, is a recreation of the holiday traditions which the author, Tasha Tudor, experienced as a child growing up in New England. Each occasion—whether it was Valentine’s Day, Easter, the fourth of July, family birthdays, and so on–was commemorated by following a specific ritual or tradition.
I loved the book, and I often thought of how wonderful it would be to live like that—living life in joyful celebration. Today there are many books available which show the reader how to add joy, beauty, and connection to their life by creating family rituals and traditions. I’ve perused several of these books, and I’ve summarized what I found below.
Creating Rituals and Traditions – Four Goals to Meet
Meg Cox, author of “The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays & Every Day”, explains that “[t]hrough rituals and traditions . . . you are building the bond of your joined identity, defining your relationship by acting it out.” Rituals often involve repeated words or actions, specific food or music, special details that heighten the senses, or something that uplifts the ordinary and turns it into something ceremonial.
Cox explains that research suggests that in creating rituals and traditions you should try to meet the following four goals:
- Families should have one solid ritual of connection daily—such as having breakfast together each morning, sharing your plans for the day, and then reciting a family cheer.
- There should be a weekly family ritual, such as having family game night each Thursday, or having a weekly meeting to discuss family business, including chores, schedules, upcoming vacations, the family budget, and so on.
- All major milestones, accomplishments, and relevant holidays should be celebrated.
- You should create transition rituals; one example is having a bedtime ritual to help your small kids make the transition from activity to stillness. Transitions also include things such as the first and the last day of school.
The Three Parts of a Ritual
Referring once again to “The Book of New Family Traditions”, Cox explains that each ritual should consists of three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. She adds that even saying grace before supper has those three elements: a nod or verbal cue that grace is to be said, the grace itself, and closing the prayer with an “amen”.
- The beginning serves to make everyone aware that something special is about to happen and sets the intention of the ritual. An example is dimming the lights right before bringing out the birthday cake.
- The middle is the action of the ritual itself. To continue with our example, the action would be bringing out the cake covered in lit candles, singing happy birthday, and blowing out the candles.
- The end signals that the ritual is over, and it can be something like a prayer, a hug, a particular phrase, and so on. In a birthday celebration the end can be signaled by clapping and cheering.
Make Your Rituals and Traditions Personal
As the final tip we’ll be discussing from Cox, your rituals and traditions should be personal. There are many generic traditions which lots of people share, such as having turkey for Thanksgiving, giving kids a basket filled with chocolates and candy for Easter, and putting up a tree for Christmas. You need to add personal touches to these generic traditions in order to make them your own.
Ten Rituals and Traditions
Here are ten rituals and traditions to help you get some ideas so that you can create your own.
1. In the book “The Joy of Family Traditions: A Season-by-Season Companion to 400 Celebrations and Activities”, Jennifer Trainer Thompson shares this birthday ritual: Give the birthday child a crown to wear all day, and let her choose all manner of things: the menu for the day’s meals, who sits where in the car, and which songs are played on the radio.
2. Thompson also shares this Thanksgiving tradition: One family places an index card and pen at each place setting. Each person writes the name of the person to their left at the top of the card, then writes something about that person for which they are thankful. The card is passed to the right so the next person can add to the list. Eventually, each card will make its way around the table. Take turns reading the thank-you cards aloud after the meal.
3. In the book “Creating Holiday Magic and Family Traditions – Creative & Unique Ideas to Make Unforgettable Family Memories on Any Budget”, Kimberly Joy Castellotti shares the following Valentine’s Day tradition: Make pancakes into the shapes of hearts and serve with berry-flavored, reddish syrup. Top with raspberries and strawberries and powdered sugar.
4. Castellotti also recommends that you make green eggs for St. Patrick’s Day (just add food coloring to the scrambled eggs). In addition, she suggests that you play “Find the gold” for St. Paddy’s Day. Buy plastic gold coins or chocolate coins and place them randomly throughout the house. Have the children find them. Whoever finds the most coins gets a St. Patrick’s Day-themed gift.
5. Here’s an idea from the blog, “Simple Mom”: Choose a morning on the weekend to spend in bed with your family. You don’t need to spend hours laying around, but 15 to 30 minutes is a nice length of time. Try having coffee, tea, or milk with a couple of cookies. Relaxing and taking a few minutes to connect with your family can be a great way to kick off a weekend.
6. Here’s a great idea from Teri Lynne Underwood: Thanksgiving Stockings. Teri discovered early on in her marriage that it’s no fun giving Christmas items as gifts during Christmas, because there’s no time to enjoy these items during the season. That’s how she came up with the idea of Thanksgiving Stockings.
After the Thanksgiving meal she hands out a stocking to each family member and friend who’s present; the stockings are filled with Christmas themed gifts, such as Christmas DVDs, Christmas music, a Frosty the snowman magnet for the refrigerator, a Rudolph pin, and so on. That way, everyone will be ready for Christmas!
Someone else gives her kids Christmas pajamas after the Thanksgiving meal so that they can wear the pajamas all through the month of December.
7. In “New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today’s Family”, Susan A. Lieberman refers to a family in which everyone walks the dog together after supper. That way, they all get some exercise and they pair off depending on who has what on their mind to talk about.
8. Lieberman also suggests that you have a special plate which you use to commemorate accomplishments. For example, if a child did well on a difficult test you would serve their dinner that night on the special dinner plate.
9. My five year-old nephew is always saying funny, quirky things, and I’ve often thought of writing them down. The other day he put on an Indiana Jones hat, he picked up a Star Wars lightsaber, and he announced that he was “Indiana Jones, Jedi”. A great family tradition is to keep a journal in which you write down “famous family quotes”: a slip of the tongue, a unique turn of phrase, and funny things that family members say. Recording inside jokes and words that are unique to your family will help to build your family identity.
10. A lot of people have an advent calendar leading up to Christmas, but you can begin the tradition of having an advent calendar which leads up to Easter as well. Get an egg carton, and twelve plastic Easter eggs. With a marker, or a sticker, label each egg from 1 to 12. Fill each egg with a part of the Easter story and a treat. Place the eggs in the egg carton.
Bonus. Gina Osher shares a ritual story about her sister-in-law on her blog. When the sister-in-law was first starting school, her mother helped her get over her fears by drawing a heart on her wrist each morning. Then, whenever she felt scared at school, she would look at the heart drawn on her wrist and remember that her mother loved her and was thinking of her.
As the sister-in-law grew up and became more confident, the hearts became less frequent. However, even when she was in high school and then college, her mother would draw a heart on her wrist whenever she had a tough exam, an audition, a job interview, and so on. When her mother passed away the sister-in-law had a small heart tattooed on her wrist as a tribute to her mother.
Rituals and traditions can apply to almost anything:
- Rituals for when someone in the family is sick, such as serving them chicken noodle soup using grandma’s recipe, giving them a big pile of comic books to read, and spraying the room with rose water.
- One family has a special blanket that they wrap around a family member who’s feeling sad, and then everyone hugs that person.
Rituals and traditions bring warmth, comfort, and security. When creating your rituals, try to involve all five senses:
- Ring a bell to signal that it’s time for dinner.
- Hold hands as you say grace.
- Set an attractive table.
- Serve food that smells and tastes delicious.
In addition, make sure that your rituals and traditions foster connectivity. In our dinner example, go around the table and have everyone share their “Hi/Low” for the day (the worst part of the day, and the best part of the day). The more that you can get everyone to actively participate in the ritual, the better.
Live your best life by creating family rituals and traditions. Do you have any family rituals and traditions? Please share in the comments section below.
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Marelisa: Great ideas and tips! My family does not have very many rituals or traditions. I think that if we did then we would all be closer as a family. I do not have a family of my own, but someday I will and I will make rituals so we can be a close to each other as possible.