With Passover and Easter upon us this week, I thought this was a great time to share some ideas about family traditions — why they’re important, and how to go about creating new ones with your family. This is a topic near to my heart this year, as my husband and I have been thinking and talking a lot about what kind of traditions we want to build for our 9-month-old daughter and, someday, other kids.

Traditions play an important role in shaping the experience of family. They create a sense of unity and closeness, help shape a family identity, and provide continuity from generation to generation. They become the treasured memories of childhood, and allow parents to share and pass down special things from their own childhoods to their little ones. They can also be a way to teach values to our children; for example, a tradition of reading bedtime stories can instill the value of education, and a tradition of family dinner can teach the centrality of family in our daily lives. Traditions differ from routine behaviors in that they’re often infused with a little bit a magic, a special sense of purpose.

I remember several special family traditions from my own childhood. These include certain dishes that my mom always prepared on holidays (things that her own mom had prepared for her as a kid), attending religious services together on Easter and Christmas Eve, and my favorite — decorating our Christmas tree together every year on the weekend after Thanksgiving. What some might see as a tedious job became magical in our house; my dad would get out the ladder and put a special Christmas CD on the stereo, mom would prepare something yummy to snack on, we’d lay out my mom’s massive collection of ornaments on the dining room table, and the four of us would take turns choosing an ornament and a spot to hang it, helping each other reach the highest branches or find the perfect spot for our favorite memento. While we worked, we’d talk about the different ornaments and where they had come from, why they were special — this one was purchased during a special vacation, that one commemorated a birth or marriage.

This tradition has stuck with me as an adult. Every year that I’m not at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, I feel a pang of longing to be there to help decorate their tree. My husband teases me with a twinkle in his eye about my own ornament collection (which, I’ll admit, might be getting out of hand), and I can’t wait to decorate our own tree with my daughter, sharing with her my own memories behind each bauble and bulb.

Here are a few ideas for creating family traditions of your own:

Communicate. Get together with your spouse or partner and discuss the traditions that are most important to you from your own childhood. What about them was important to you, and what do you hope to share about them with your own children? Even when we bring different traditions from our families of origin, there is usually a way to combine them (for example, if her family always went to Church on Easter and his family enjoyed Easter Sunday doing something outdoors, perhaps you can find a sunrise service held at an outdoor location, or plan a picnic in a scenic location after a traditional worship service).
Consider the purpose behind a new tradition. What do you hope your family will get out of the experience? If it’s important to you to instill religious values in your children, think specifically about traditions that will do that (maybe specific Biblical stories read on religious holidays). If your goal is to teach about generosity and sharing with others, develop a tradition of service like volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen regularly.
Make it personal. We want our traditions to feel like they’re special, not just the same thing that every other family is doing on a given day. So, get creative and think of things you can do to make a tradition or ritual truly yours. Do you have kids who really love music or performing? Then create a tradition that includes singing or dancing together. Dad’s a football fan and passionate about a certain team? Create a tradition that includes getting family together to watch Dad’s team play their big rivals every year.
Keep it fun. It’s wonderful when traditions transcend generations, have a purpose, and feel personal — but all of that is lost if family members aren’t enjoying themselves! Traditions are more likely to be passed on to the next generation if the memories of doing them are positive ones. So, make sure that whatever your traditions become, you do them with a happy heart and a smile on your face.
Finally, be flexible. The traditions that work with your infants and toddlers might fall flat with older kids and teenagers, so it’s important to be flexible in implementing them. As kids get older, they’re also more able to contribute their own ideas and personalities into the creation and implementation of family traditions — let them! Traditions need to change and grow over time, to accommodate the changing needs of a dynamic family.

So, what were the important traditions in your family growing up? What new traditions have you started, or do you plan to start, with your own family? Sound off in the comments — we want to hear from you!