Traditions are, in part, the glue that binds our families together. Large, grandiose, commonly practiced and a bit over the top, or quiet, intimate, unique and a little understated, it really doesn’t matter. What is important is that you have a group of family traditions.
Before how to start a tradition even matters, the answer to the question “Why even bother to start one at all?” needs examination.
Shared tradition creates a sense of belonging. Churches, lodges and athletic teams know this and use the process well. And until recently, the best user of this process was the family.
Consider the family reunion. This is an example of that multi-generational, large, grandiose, commonly practiced and a bit over-the-top type of tradition. The purpose of this tradition is simple: to reinforce the sense of belonging and reacquaint the family members with one another. Oh, and eat way too much.
Looking at something a bit less overwhelming, it was my father’s practice and his father’s before him that on a daughter’s birthday, there was a daddy/daughter date. Dad would take my sisters out for some time alone together, a tradition that I have continued and my connection with my daughter is stronger because of it.
The thing about tradition is it doesn’t happen from one occurrence. It is only tradition if it happens over and over again. Like opening one package on Christmas Eve — still to this day it is always pajamas. Now that’s a tradition.
That may sound a bit odd to you, but many of my best memories center around Christmas Eve and new pajamas. First with my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, later with my wife and kids, and now with my grandkids. Traditions are like that; they give us structure.
The traditions of your extended family are important; equally important are traditions of your own as you begin a family. So now the big question becomes how to get a tradition started.
The first step is to look into your own life, talk with your spouse and look for the traditions from your past that you may want to continue with your family. Continuing traditions that already exist is really pretty easy. The harder job is creating new traditions for your family.
Do a bit of investigation — ask others what they do. Pick families and people that you admire for this advice. Chances are that they are doing something right. Next, decide what you want the tradition to do for your family. Some traditions teach principles, others foster family unity, still others are simply fun, and some fulfill all of these.
Next, be prepared to follow through. An event that only happens once or twice will never make it to tradition status. Steel yourself to the fact that whatever your tradition, at some point a child will say something akin to, “This is really dumb. Why do we have to do this?” The status of the activity as a family tradition gives you the ultimate answer. Simply smile saintly and answer, “Of course we are going to do it. It’s our family tradition.”
As you embark on this effort, and there will be effort, remember it is our family traditions that are the glue that binds our families together.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guy has been married for 26 years and has three children.