Most families have holiday traditions, regardless of what holiday you are celebrating. Even when we grow up and form our own families, we naturally merge our new traditions with some of the old. It seems that traditions, new or old have a strong place in our hearts. Holiday traditions become an essential aspect of how we celebrate, and there is a reason why we keep them as a part of our lives for so long. Simply put we hold onto holiday traditions because they add meaning to our celebrations, and help bond us to those we love.

Last weekend I was watching Christmas Vacation (one of my guilty pleasures before and during the holiday season) and I started thinking about why this movie was so funny. A seemingly normal family has all the warm and fuzzy holiday traditions and dreams of the perfect family Christmas. Of course until everything goes wrong. The traditional events end in disaster, the tree catches fire, the turkey is dry (which is an understatement), the uninvited dog wrecks the house chasing the squirrel that got in the house, and the crazy cousin kidnaps the stingy boss. After all this, the family still finds meaning and joy in the season. The tradition that survives is that they always spend the holidays with family, and this bonds them despite all the chaos.

Holiday traditions are essentially ritualistic behaviors that nurture us and our relationships. They are primal parts of us, which have survived since the dawn of man. Traditional celebrations of holidays has been around as long as recorded history. Holiday traditions are an important part to building a strong bond between family, and our community. They give us a sense of belonging and a way to express what is important to us. They connect us to our history and help us celebrate generations of family. Most people can say, “oh this was great grandmas table cloth we always used for Thanksgiving” or “I remember stinging popcorn with my mom when I was young”. They keep the memories of the past alive and help us share them with newer generations.

Although holiday traditions are are usually the fist thing people think of when you mention traditions, they are not the only ones families have. Whether it’s stringing popcorn for the Christmas tree, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade while the turkey cooks, building sand castles every summer or regularly having family movie night they are a family ritual that brings children and parents closer. These moments create positive memories for children and provide positive events for everyone to anticipate! Children crave the comfort and security that comes with traditions and predictability. This takes away the anxiety of the unknown and unpredictable. Traditions are a wonderful way to anchor family members to each other, providing a sense of unity and belonging.

I am a huge fan of traditions year round but especially around the holidays. My family frequently has movie night, where we rent a movie, make fresh popcorn, and snuggle up on the couches to watch something awesome. Its really become more about the quality time we spend together, the sarcastic commentary from dad that makes everyone laugh and the imaginative questions from my daughter that inspire a sense of youth. Thanksgiving traditions always involve the first indulgence of egg nog that will continue through to New Years, and we always make green bean casserole.  During Christmas, I have carried on a favorite tradition with my own family where we decorate the tree and add empty miniature drawstring sacks. On Christmas eve Santa fills them with candy so that on Christmas there are sweets to snack on throughout the day. My daughter gets so excited about the sacks of chocolate, that now at the age of 13 she asks if she can help fill them the night before because she wants to be part of the entire process.

Not every family is lucky enough to have traditions, but that’s ok. That just gives you the freedom to start creating your own! With the holidays coming, it is the perfect excuse to start trying new things! It can really be anything you think is fun. Perhaps it could be playing TBS’s 24 hours of the Christmas Story in the background while the family spends time together, cooks dinner, and plays with their new toys. Reading the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve is popular, or perhaps reading A Christmas Carol throughout the season.

Once you get started making traditions during the holidays your can start branching out to make new traditions throughout the year. Start a pizza night, a movie night, or even board game night. Make birthdays a special time for the celebrant to pick the cake and their favorite dinner. If these things aren’t what you had in mind, traditions can be the annual family vacation where you spend time together every year. Growing up we looked forward to the annual Winter Weekend where the entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins and spouses) would spend a long weekend in December enjoying the holiday season in a huge rented cabin. We would take turns cooking meals, and spend our free time playing in the snow.

If there is a simple take away message here, it’s that traditions nurture our spirit and are an important part of family bonding. They can be anything fun you and your family already enjoy doing, or you can have fun starting your own. Don’t get caught up in instituting the perfect family tradition, it’s not about being perfect it’s about the experience you share with your family.