Easter is right around the corner. As this holiday approaches, my thoughts and actions turn to our family traditions. As I consider this, after so recently reading about Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on habits, it seems to me that traditions are generational habits. Family habits are passed on from the parents to the children who grow up and pass them to their children. G.K. Chesterton said, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.”
When I think of traditions, I think of my childhood holidays: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Our family had certain rituals and activities and ways to celebrate. These traditions were eagerly anticipated and delightfully followed. We had other family traditions, such as going out to eat for Sunday lunch and having pizza and movie on Friday nights. We moved around a lot when I was growing up and all of these traditions gave us a family identity that stayed the same while the scenery around us changed.
God established traditions for his creation from the very beginning. He rested on the seventh day from his work of creating, introducing the tradition of the Sabbath rest. He commanded his chosen people to observe his feast days every year and then when Jesus came, He instituted communion with his last supper with his disciples. These traditions were to help his people remember his great works that He had done for them. And to remember is to learn who God is, to yearn to be like him, and to turn to him in gratitude and love.
Family traditions do this. They give a family an identity, promote relationships, love, and fun, and create a space for reflection and the passing down of values. Traditions create a framework to house the essence of your family. The traditions and rituals of your family communicate to your children and to others who your family is and what your family cares about.
We want to take care in the habits and traditions we pass on to our children. We want to use them to create memories, build relationships, and communicate the truths of the Scriptures to our children. We have a few regular family traditions (that is, we are working on creating them now) and we have many holiday traditions.
How to Create Meaningful Family Traditions:
1. Think about what you want to pass down to your children. What do you and your spouse value? What is important to you? What do you want to teach them? What do you want your family to be all about?
Scotty and I went through the process of creating a family mission statement using the method laid down by Tsh at Simple Mom. We set aside a couple of date nights last summer to talk through the questions outlined there and get a mission statement written. It was a long process (and arduous for my non-analytical husband who just doesn’t think this way), but we were both quite pleased with the results. It was incredibly helpful to know our goal for our family because, as Tsh’s husband said, we can only “manage it all by finding your family’s priorities and ignoring everything else. No one can do it all, so it’s essential to start by finding out what you should do, and which things are okay to ignore.”
2. Think about the traditions your family (and your spouse’s family) did in your childhoods. What activities and rituals were meaningful to you? Which ones were not so important?
It is important to me to pass down some things from the past- from both families. It gives my children connections to their grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides. For example, we melded both of our childhood Christmases by following my family’s order of activities and serving his grandmother’s cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
But I don’t want to follow traditions that have no meaning to me or would add no value to our family. Why add extra work to my load for no reason?
3. Start gradually- one step at a time. If the ‘tradition’ is completely new- and not something that you’ve done before, you must consider it a new habit and start small- adding one small aspect at a time. Habits are formed one at a time with baby steps. You cannot do a major overhaul overnight and expect it to stick.
One tradition we’ve started in the last few weeks is family devotions. It is something neither of us did as children, but something we’ve seen and read about in other families and thought it was a good idea.
Ever since we began having children, Scotty has covered the whole bedtime routine- he would read them a story, sing them some songs, and get them in bed. In the past, I would get tired and thus hand the children over to him after dinner and go do my own thing. Therefore, it was always a challenge for me to think of giving that time up.
However, a few weeks ago, I was possessed with a desire to do family devotions. So I discussed it with my husband, he agreed and we have started to do the reading a Bible story and singing hymns and songs on the couch together before he takes them off to brush their teeth and get in bed.
The only difference between this new thing and what was being done before is my involvement, the story is a Bible story, and the songs are praise or worship songs. Nothing major has changed and I think that is the main reason this habit is being formed so easily. Baby steps are the key.
4. Adjust as you go. Life is an ever-changing spectacle. As soon as you figure out how to live well in the stage you are in, your stage shifts- your kids grow older, circumstances change, something new happens. So your traditions may have to adjust or evolve with your situation. And as you are creating traditions, you may find that some things are not fun for your family or do not add value or significance to the celebration and can be released. Or perhaps you will do something new that you or your kids love that you can fold into your existing traditions.
5. Remember that withholding is just as important as granting. When my parents would take us on long drives to see family, my mother would pack a special bag. Every couple of hours, she would pull out a brand new item- a new coloring book, a toy, a book- for us to enjoy. We eagerly anticipated the next gift, but my mother was careful to carefully select the time that she would dole each new item out. The act of withholding the surprise added to its value and the excitement of anticipation.
In our family, I do not allow Christmas music or movies to be played except in the month of December. The Tale of the Three Trees is only read once in the Christmas season and once in the Easter season. In the past few months, we have started watching the adorable show Shaun the Sheep for Friday Family Fun night. We watch one 20 minute episode every Friday night. My kids beg to watch it throughout the week, but my answer is always “Nope! That is special for Friday Family Fun Night!” When Friday arrives, boy, are they excited about Shaun!
This principle works in other areas of life than in creating traditions. Toys withheld- packed up and put in the garage or put in boxes and stored up high- can be used as toys for special times, such as during “School Hours” for toddlers or for special activities.
If you think carefully about which ones you keep, family traditions can be rich in meaning and full of life and fun. They can strengthen your family and provide a space for you to teach your children values. As Tevye says, “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!”