The Importance of Christmas Traditions
When you remember your childhood Christmases, what comes to mind? A traditional family dinner? A gift exchange with cousins? Caroling and cookie baking? Christmas traditions are an important part of family life and can be used to show teens the real meaning of Christmas.
Traditions show what is most important.
While many traditions revolve around church—like attending the Christmas Eve services or special programs, or reading the Christmas story from the Bible each year, not all meaningful Christmas traditions take place in church.
For the DeAngulo family, sharing with others is one of their most meaningful traditions. "One thing we do every year is help a family who is feeling a financial hurt," says Jeanne DeAngelo. "We do the twelve days of Christmas. We type up a poem that rhymes with the item we have for the family. Example: On the first day of Christmas someone gave to me a box of my favorite tea! Then we put a box of seasonal tea bags in a gift bag with the poem attached to the outside."
The family waits until dark and delivers the gift without being seen.
The next night a gift is added. "On the second day of Christmas some friends gave to me two free oil changes and a box of my favorite tea." The DeAngelo family then leaves two gift certificates for oil changes. This continues for twelve days with the same family receiving a new gift each night.
"On Christmas Eve we give the final package and make it something really like $100 gift certificate to Walmart and a dozen donuts. We never reveal who we are. There are fun times and lots of memories!" says Jeanne who feels the tradition takes the emphasis off of themselves and lets them focus on others.
Traditions define the family.
Traditions that are passed down through the generations provide a sense of family. These unique happenings may center on a family's cultural heritage, beliefs, or lifestyle.
Jean Wise says, "My parents had three sets of tiny wooden shoes they put on the tree each year. One my dad brought back from Holland in the 30s, and the other two were from vacations. We added a small set for each child and had their names engraved. As they marry we give a pair to the spouse. When my first grandchild was born earlier this month, my daughter said, 'We need a new set of shoes for the tree.'" They are now the fourth generation to carry on this tradition."
Traditions ensure time spent together.
Holidays are a time for togetherness whether spent with immediate family decorating the tree or by having a large gathering of extended family members.
Bill and Christina Wyatt spend part of the holiday with both their families. Bill's family comes over for Christmas Eve dinner and opens presents. Then the Wyatts and their four children go to Christina's mother's home where they stay up late wrapping presents and watching A Christmas Story.
"There are children in every room," Christina says. "On Christmas morning the kids are allowed to eat whatever they wish and we have a present opening frenzy just after they get into their stockings."
Traditions give a sense of family or belonging.
Special Christmas activities are another way of bringing everyone close. Sometimes traditions develop among certain family members as with Eva Marie Everson and her daughter who hosted a Mother-Daughter Christmas tea for several moms and teens when the daughter was a teen. "It meant we had to work together on a project that was just as important to her as to me. We decorated the house together, prepared the menu together, came up with fun mother/daughter games. Every one dressed up, gifts were exchanged and the Christmas Story was read. It's a special mother/daughter memory during an often tumultuous time that will forever be remembered. Now, I have a 12 year old in my home and I'm thinking, 'Maybe we should do that again!"
Traditions give a sense of security, continuity and comfort.
Traditions that are observed year after year give a sense of stability whether it's making the same kind of Christmas cookies or choosing a name from an Angel Tree. No matter what changes take place as children grow up or things within the family and economy change, these traditions remain.
The Christmas tree in Tim and Teresa Cleary’s house is decorated with photo ornaments for each year of their children’s lives. “My children enjoyed watching themselves grow up as each new ornament was added,” said Teresa Cleary, mother of three. “When I started running out of room on my tree, I decided that high school graduation would be the cut off point for new photo ornaments. It was a sad decision, but each child knows that those ornaments will be theirs when they have families of their own.”
Starting a New Tradition
Don't have many traditions? It's not too late to start. The best traditions are ones that everyone can take part in and that are enjoyable for all.
The traditions can start with when and how Christmas decorations are put up and last through Christmas day or even beyond. Traditions may include special church services or programs or community events such as a Christmas parade or meal at the homeless shelter during the holidays.
When starting a new tradition, ask yourself:
What would help my family focus on the parts of Christmas that are most important to us?
What activities would allow us to serve others?
What tradition would reinforce our family's uniqueness?
What is meaningful to each family member?
What would allow us to spend quality time together?
What traditions would be simple enough that we could do them yearly with little stress?
Ask your teens for their input. Something that might seem trivial or too young to you might appeal to them. Our family's tradition was that each child received a Christmas book on Thanksgiving. Recently the children decided they were too old for this and we decided to build gingerbread houses instead. It's something that each child from elementary age to teen could take part in, with the boys building one and the girls another. Everyone enjoyed the challenge of keeping the walls standing and decorating the houses with individuality.
Traditions are an important part of Christmas. If you don't already have a favorite one, start a new one this year.
If you think teens don't care about traditions, just try changing one. They enjoy traditions more than they might let on. Here are some favorites from teens.
Putting the tree up together as a family and baking and decorating tons of Christmas cookies with my mom and big sister. Elyssa, 13
My favorite tradition is a sibling gift exchange. We draw the names on Thanksgiving and try to keep it a secret who we are buying for. Jessica, 17
My favorite tradition is the Christmas Eve gathering at our house with my mom’s side of the family. She’s one of seven children so when everyone gets together it’s a crowd. We have “cousin time” in the basement while the adults are upstairs. Steven, 19
On Thanksgiving Day we take a family picture that we use for our Christmas card. It's fun trying to get the perfect picture. Sarah, 16
Need a new tradition? Here are some simple ones you can start this year.
- Donate time to a charity. Serve at the homeless shelter or deliver food baskets.
- Make your own holiday cards—everyone takes part.
- Take a Christmas picture each year in the same location so you can see how much each child or teen grows.
- Deliver baked goods to friends or shut ins as a family.
- Burn a CD of your favorite Christmas songs. Play it each year as you open gifts.
- Give a turkey or ham to a needy family.
- Invite a local military family or group of college students to watch a holiday movie.
- Drive around town and try to find the most extravagant light display and the most meaningful light display. Or have a Christmas display scavenger hunt.