Traditions in families form an important part of your social structure and even contribute to your sense of identity. They can come from your country’s culture, your religion, or even your family itself.
Do you look forward to the holiday season every year? Maybe you associate a certain day with loved ones gathering around a table for a card game, eating the meatloaf your mom makes every year, or opening your presents in order of age like you’ve done since you were a child.
All of these are examples of family traditions — from the religious holidays themselves to your family’s quirky rituals and routines. Read through the following guide to understand why family traditions matter and learn how to start your own.
What Are Family Traditions?
Family traditions might involve activities, gifts, stories, and songs that are continued throughout the family's life together and passed down through generations. Some come from religion or a country's culture, while others are invented by the families themselves.
Religious traditions. Not everybody is religious, and not every family participates in religious traditions. Families that do participate in religious holidays and ceremonies might find profound meaning in celebrating baptisms, weddings, and funerals that align with their faith. These traditions can be passed down through generations.
Cultural traditions. “Culture” means different things to different people. It can affect how you think about the world, steer you toward what you consider important, and influence the values that shape your decisions. Cultural traditions might be religious or specific to a certain country or region.
Family-specific traditions. Family traditions often have nothing to do with anything greater than the individual family unit — but this doesn’t mean that they’re any less meaningful to your family. A movie that you watch every holiday season, a meal you cook on Friday nights, or a special vacation spot can serve as times of bonding and relaxation with your loved ones.
What Are the Benefits of Family Traditions?
A place in your culture. Cultural traditions often revolve around spending time with family, respect for elders, and belief in a higher power. Whether you were born and raised in the southern United States or are a second-generation immigrant from a country on the other side of the world, your family probably has its own unique interpretation of its wider culture.
It’s important for many people to connect with their birth culture — including the traditions and rituals that come with it — especially if it has been lost over generations or if it isn’t represented in the majority culture in your current city or town. It can give you a sense of purpose and a connection to others who share this culture.
A connection to loved ones. Traditions aren’t just about you — they’re about your entire family unit, the ancestors that have come before you, and the generations that will follow. By taking your place in observing a religious holiday with your family or a family-created tradition like saying what you liked most about your day before you eat your evening meal, you’re connecting yourself to the people you love. By teaching your children these traditions, you’re offering them the same sense of connection.
A sense of stability. If you have children, you might know that kids thrive when given structure and a predictable routine. Adults do, too. The lack of routine can actually cause health problems including stress, anxiety, and poor sleep. In contrast, routines and rituals can lend a sense of stability to our lives.
Consider your high school graduation, your grandfather’s funeral, or a holiday card game. These rituals show the passing of time, give you something to expect, and help you pay respect to important people and events in your life.
Is There a Wrong Way to Start Traditions in Families?
Forcing a child to participate in family traditions simply because it’s tradition or asking a family member to do something that goes against their beliefs isn’t a good way to bring the family together. For example, if your brother is six months sober, you shouldn’t insist that he participates in a good-natured drink during a holiday card game. In these situations, give your loved ones time to adjust, modify your traditions if necessary, or focus on creating new traditions that you can all enjoy together.
How Can My Family Start Our Own Traditions?
Family traditions to start can include aspects of religion, culture, or family identity. They can be incredibly simple or as complex as you desire. Consider the following list of family tradition ideas to get started:
- Stories and rhyme: Sing a song to your children that your parents sang to you, or teach a rhyme to your grandchildren that you used in your own childhood play.
- Family meals: Studies have shown that having family dinners on a regular basis can lead to growth in children’s self-esteem, habits, and weight management.
- Cooking together: You can teach your kids or grandkids to bake your family’s favorite recipes, or you might want to dig into manuscripts and journals left by relatives to find older family recipes to try. You might enjoy cooking specific foods at birthdays, holidays, or certain times of the year (like the first day of your kids’ summer break).
- Religious services: Attending holiday services with your parents or children that are relevant to your faith or culture. If your family is nonreligious but open to the idea of going to a service, it could be an interesting experience and a time to bond. At the very least, it could open your family to a discussion about what you do believe.
- Helping others together: Volunteering for the same cause every year with your children to teach them selflessness and that they have the power to change the world around them.
You might be deeply religious or not believe in any higher power. You might have roots on the other side of the world or the next state over. Traditions in families — even the simple act of sharing a meal every day — serve many purposes, including connection, stability, and understanding that you’re part of something greater than yourself.
If you’re trying to come up with new family traditions, remember that it doesn’t matter how profound or silly the tradition is. If it means something to your family and draws you closer to the people you love, then it serves its purpose.