Don’t let the true magic of the holiday season get lost in the whirlwind and glitter of this busy time of year. Looking past the flurry of shopping days and mountains of gifts, holidays are a time of creating new memories and reflecting upon treasured moments of years gone by.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, we often take for granted the many exquisite traditions that quietly fill our holiday worlds. These traditions are very much worth tending to and passing on, for they carry within them the invaluable glue of love and family. It is our holiday traditions that are often most evocative of our heritage and the varied, rich histories passed down from prior generations.
The word “tradition” is derived from the Latin verb traderere, which means to hand over, to transmit, or to give for safekeeping. And, so, it is our traditions that allow us to hold on to meaningful customs and rituals from the past that are deeply connective in nature.
As the holiday season moves into full gear, it can be easy to forget that our festivities are truly filled with meaningful rituals such as singing carols, preparing special foods, lighting the menorah, decorating the Christmas tree, and putting out stockings. Many families enjoy rich traditions that include stunning Christmas Eve dinners and elaborate New Year’s Day feasts. While abundant holiday fare might be a focal point, what is most vital about traditions is the “together time” that is shared in the process. Whether baking cookies, lighting special candles, or putting ornaments on the tree, it is the time spent sharing and connecting that creates the most beautiful memories. As old and young chatter, laugh, play—and even gently tease—memories are created that bond and unite.
When we share and reflect upon our historical traditions we begin to see and value their priceless nature. Customs passed from generation to generation often gather their own nuances as each family adds a personal touch. In this way, traditions carry within them the unique stamp of every family. Traditions also tend to bring out memories that prompt story-telling of antics and delights from years gone by. Even the telling of stories can become a beautiful part of tradition, and as generation adds a tale or two of their own. If you pause for a few moments, your mind might be filled with a list of delightful holiday traditions that are deeply meaningful to you—many that you might hope your own children carry on year after year.
Holding on to traditions from the past does not mean that we need not welcome the new. In fact, marriage provides an opportunity to welcome your spouse’s traditions into the mix. In my own family, our rich Italian and Russian heritage allowed for a blending of traditions from vastly different—yet wonderfully complimentary— cultures. Our Christmas Eve banquets have included a wondrous assortment of traditional foods from piroshki to treasured Italian pizzelles. To this day, the New Year is not complete without my having a taste of garlic dipped in honey and a washing of hands in a bowl of shiny copper pennies. In preserving customs and also inclusively re-crafting them when needed, we preserve meaningful customs that remind us of generations past. Our traditions take us back to childhood, to more simple and carefree times, and it is these memories that keep the holidays aglow with meaning.
Even as we look to the past for traditions that we might carry on and pass down, there is always room to create fresh traditions. This can be especially important when families have blended or the loss of a loved one has occurred. Wonderful new traditions can be crafted that offer a unique, fresh start! You can bring your family ever closer by infusing the festivities with inspired ideas that become your own yearly customs. You and yours can create delightful new rituals with a bit of imagination and creativity. Below are a few fun-filled ideas that might light a spark or two of your own!
1. Create your own ornaments from nature! It is such fun (and great exercise) to go into nature to find fallen treasures such as pinecones and acorns. Nature lovers can collect items throughout the year—and the ornaments then become a reminder of beautiful outdoor treks. If you live near the ocean, collected shells and sea glass can be crafted into gorgeous ornaments. Gather around the kitchen table with a bit of ribbon, glue, and glitter—and you are set for fashioning beautiful ornaments to adorn your tree and give as gifts.
2. Sweets for the sweet! Host a cookie exchange with friends and neighbors! You might be delightfully surprised by the number of folks who are just waiting to connect. As the cookies become the main treat for the night, the preparations are easy! The hosting family provides paper plates, cups, and some sparkling punch—and everything else falls right into place!
3. Musical moments! If you and yours are musical (or at least inclined to be jolly), share your talents with those less fortunate! Many elder care facilities and hospitals welcome holiday carolers and visitors to brighten up the atmosphere. By creating your own family of volunteers, you can spread holiday cheer—and create a tradition of giving from your heart!
4. Bring in the take-out! Many families become inundated with parties, feasts, and heavy cooking schedules. If this all gets a bit too much for you, give you and yours permission to have a special take-out food become a tradition! I know more than a few families who have adopted terrific traditions that involve bringing home an array of sushi, delectable pizzas, and Chinese food! There couldn’t be a more stress-free way to dine and enjoy the company of those you love!
5. Play the games! Bring back the games of your childhood! Whether you create games of holiday charades or holiday Pictionary, remember the natural fun that arises from old-fashioned play! There is nothing like the memory of laughter-filled fun to automatically create a tradition that will be repeated year after year!
6. Elephants make excellent gifts! If your family has become weighted down by the expense and material overload of mountains of presents, white elephant gifts might be your answer! It’s easy to create a new tradition of giving gifts, white elephant style! Each person wraps a “found” item (set the “guidelines” with your loved ones in advance), and the fun begins! Gifts are selected randomly or by numbers, and the fun and laughter of opening “new” treasures begins!
7. Bulbs and more bulbs! While this is the season when bulbs of all shapes and colors adorn homes, this is also the season for certain flower bulbs! One of my personal favorites is the species of Narcissus known as Paperwhites. Such bulbs can be “forced” to bloom in December, and they are truly a wonderful gift of nature! The growing and gifting of fragrant bulbs can become a holiday tradition that delights you and yours year after year!
Creating new holiday traditions—and weaving them in with some wonderful customs from the past—can bring your family closer than ever. Put on your thinking cap, open your heart, and see what wondrously meaningful ideas arise to inspire you! Remember that what is most meaningful about traditions is their connective power and the loving joy they can create in your own family. Whether your traditions are old, new, or a combination of the two, you can delight in making them your own and welcoming them year after year! Get inventive, get connected, and enjoy the magic of your own holiday traditions!