The 3 Keys to Enjoying Your Holiday Traditions

Holiday traditions are one of the best things about the upcoming festive season. We only get to enjoy most our holiday traditions once a year, which must be why we look forward to them so eagerly!

During the holiday season, I love watching my favorite Christmas movies with my family. I particularly love Elf, Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story!

I also love listening to Christmas carols while we bake cookies, and driving around my local neighborhoods on Christmas Eve, looking for over-the-top lights and decorations – the gaudier, the better!

In one of our previous posts, The Importance of Establishing and Documenting Family Traditions, we talked about how we lean on (and lean into) family traditions, especially around the holidays. Family traditions offer us comfort and safety, help us form our identities, give us long-lasting memories, and strengthen our family connections.

Family traditions are often fun and exciting! In this post, we’re going to give you some of our top tips for honoring and documenting your traditions this holiday season.

Including Food in Your Holiday Traditions

One tradition that has serious staying power is cooking and sharing food with family and friends. More often than not, gathering around the table (for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or late-night snacks) is included in most families’ holiday tradition list.

Sometime we get to dig into dishes and desserts that we only get to enjoy once a year (like the special green bean casserole your aunt makes every Christmas, or the incredible pumpkin pie your mom includes in the Thanksgiving meal every year).

The tradition of “holiday food” is important, because those recipes often represent our connections to our national heritage. For example, every year, Tom’s aunts send us cookies made with marzipan, which is a favorite of his German relatives.

Some dishes are family recipes passed down from generation to generation, and as recreate these dishes, it helps us honor our the relatives and say  “Thank you” to those who have come before us.

For many families, baking holiday cookies are an important part of their food-related traditions at this time of year.

In my family, we typically bake two or three varieties of cookies every December. When I was growing up, my mother honored this tradition, but didn’t really enjoy the process. Perhaps she didn’t enjoy it because she always chose to make gingerbread cookies, and as the dough got sticky, she’d add more flour. Because the dough got too tough to use, we never rolled-out cookies or made gingerbread houses!

Just like my mom, I never developed the patience for rolling out dough and decorating individual cookies, but we did buy pre-made dough so Tom and the kids could decorate cookies together.

Some of my friends gather every year for a full day holiday cookie bake-fest. They literally bake hundreds of cookies. I’m happy just to get a few dozen cookies made!

This holiday season, think about the ways that food fits into your family traditions, and make sure to document the cooking (and eating!) process.

Honoring Spiritual Beliefs During the Holidays

For some families, honoring spiritual traditions is an important part of their holiday celebrations.

In my family, our Christian faith is important to us, so celebrating Christmas wouldn’t be complete without attending church. Even if we are away from home and spending Christmas Day with one of our relatives, we always find a local church to attend.

What do your holiday spiritual traditions look like? Do you honor your faith during the holiday season, if you are religious?

Other spiritual traditions might include:

  • Advent celebrations with readings, candles, and chocolate calendars.
  • Lighting the menorah during Hanukkah.
  • Holding a Yule Log ceremony to celebrate the winter solstice.
  • Enjoying holiday music and movies that remind us of the significance of the season.
  • The simple acts of giving and serving.

Keeping the Traditions of Those We’ve Lost

Sometimes, we want to continue to honor holiday traditions that help us remember family members or friends who have passed away.

Here are some ideas to help honor and remember people we’ve lost:

  • Continue a tradition going that was near and dear to your loved one. Have a family member who loved caroling? Organize a group to carol in your neighborhood and sing some of that person’s favorite holiday songs.
  • Prepare your loved one’s favorite recipe, and share stories about that person while you’re eating the dish.
  • Display a loved one’s keepsake ornament, or holiday decor that has been handed down to you by that person.
  • Write a letter to your loved one during every holiday season, and keep the letters to hand down to the next generations. This practice might include putting these letters in an album.

Adding New Traditions to Your Holiday Routine

As our families grow and change, we may want to retire older traditions that are no longer practical or possible, and start some new ones. That’s completely okay! There’s no need to hang on to old traditions if they are no longer working.

Talk to your family about old traditions, and ask whether they’d like to add new traditions to the holiday festivities menu (both literally, and figuratively!)

We may not even realize we are creating a tradition until we repeat something a few times and everyone agrees, “Yes, let’s keep doing that!”

You can get ideas and suggestions for new holiday traditions, from Southern Living, SignUpGenius, and MyWedding (the last article is aimed at newlyweds, but there are great ideas on their list!)

When you’ve got a blended family, or your family includes in-laws and/or married children’s spouses, be aware that you’ll need to blend your family traditions to accommodate everyone’s needs and interests. You don’t need to look at this as a bad thing – these slightly more complex relationships can help us try new things and create different and special traditions!

The 3 Keys to Enjoying Successful Family Traditions

1. Be flexible. In our family, we try to keeping our focus on the most important part of our holiday tradition, which is being together, no matter where we are.

As our kids have grown up, moved away, and found significant others, we simply requested that we could be with at least one of the kids on the holidays, so we don’t have to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas without some immediate family around us. In many cases, this means Tom and I need to travel around the holidays, but that’s okay!

You may need to be flexible with your gift-giving, too, if that’s typically a part of your holiday traditions. As families grow into extended families and budgets are tight, consider different ways to exchange gifts: drawing names, buying personalized but inexpensive gifts, or giving charitable organizations in honor of a loved one.

2. Plan in advance. Anticipate where there may be problems or friction, and try to make plans to minimize or eliminate problems. For example, if you have a family member who wants to join in on a holiday tradition but can’t be present in person, plan to connect using technology (like Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom) so they can actually see and be part of the action! Planning in advance for this kind of tech-enabled connection can help you minimize frustration and delays on the day of your tradition.

3. Above all, communicate with your loved ones. Practically anything can work if you talk it out! Stay in touch, keep lines of communication open, and don’t bottle things up if something is bugging you.

Emotions are often close to the surface at the holidays, and juggling all the planning, shopping, planning can be stressful. If things are kept bottled up, it will likely add to the stress. When you you communicate what’s on your mind, it’s a great opportunity to work things out and grow closer with your family and friends.

Remember to Document Your Holiday Customs

Whatever you do to celebrate the holidays each year, remember to document your traditions, so you can look back on your treasured holiday time and remember the details!

One thing that helps many families is to designate a holiday photographer. Sometimes you’re too busy (or too “in the moment”) to capture the events of a holiday in photos or video, but having a designated photographer or videographer can help you make sure the moments can be captured, no matter what.

Your holiday photographer can simply be a member of the family who his or her their way around a camera or smartphone.

You can get ideas for chronicling your traditions from our previous post about documenting family reunions.

Savoring Your Traditions This Holiday Season

Hopefully these tips will help you plan and enjoy your holiday traditions this year.

We’d love to hear about your favorite holiday traditions. Let us know your favorites in the comments below.

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