During December, my calendar tends to fill up quickly, and my pocketbook tends to empty more quickly. Our family is busy during the holiday season with all kinds of special activities and events, plus decorating and gift-giving, and often traveling. We enjoy all these things, of course, but in the busy-ness, we realized we were probably doing some of those things "just because" and not taking time to appreciate the meaning behind some of them. Leading up last December, my husband and I started really talking about family traditions that surrounded the holidays, and reflecting on those traditions that we had adopted from our own backgrounds. We decided that the childhood memories that were precious to us we wanted to pass on to our own children, but we hoped also to create something that was unique to our family. We wanted to give our children the gift of traditions.
We decided we wanted to create something that would become our own family tradition for the holidays. But where to start? Our guidelines were that whatever we came up with should be simple, promote togetherness, and make memories.
Simple - Don't work too hard at layering things with meanings and symbolism. If it's elaborate or expensive, it may become burdensome to continue. There is joy in simple things, especially for children. When we asked our kids about some of the things they most wanted to do during the holidays, or the best memories they had of past holidays, we were surprised at the simplicity of the memories and desires that stood out to them. Doing puzzles or playing games together; baking favorite cookies; or playing in the snow.
Togetherness - The whole idea is to bring the family together, so we looked for activities that we could all enjoy together. That doesn't mean that everything we do is everyone's favorite, but because it holds great meaning for at least one of us, the rest of us will take joy in being a part of it. I'm not very good at doing puzzles, but some of my family members love doing that, so I sit down at the table and do my best to participate, simply because they want me to be there. Food is a great way to bring people together, so preparing special dishes or meals together and then gathering around the table to enjoy the food and the company is a centerpiece of many beloved traditions.
Memories - The funny thing about memories is that you can't always plan them. Sometimes they just happen. But you can pass on your family's stories, and your childhood memories, and start asking kids about their favorite things that they remember from past holidays.
So, what tradition did we create for our family? We borrowed from the old custom of the Twelve Days of Christmas. With input from all the family members, we made a sort of "bucket list" of the things we wanted to enjoy together during the Christmas season. Some items on the list were favorites from years past and so already had some tradition attached to them; some were activities that were specific to that year (such as a party we were attending, or starting to shop for a new vehicle); and all were family-oriented, close to home, and relatively inexpensive. We had a very long list to choose from, and we didn't get to do everything on the list, but we believe that we've begun something that will tie our family heritage and childhood memories to the present and create memories too. Maybe our Days of Christmas List will become a tradition that future generations will enjoy, as they create their own memories.
Traditions are a gift. The gift of family identity and harmony. The gift of being connected to our heritage. The gift of continuing the best of that heritage. The gift of spiritual and family values. The gift of shared memories.
Kym is in the middle of the 18th year of homeschooling her four kids, two of whom have graduated. She and her husband of 28 years are Canadians transplanted to Maryland. Kym loves coffee, history, and homeschooling, and you can join her for coffee break at her blog, Homeschool Coffee Break.