How to Cultivate Holiday Rituals and Traditions with Your Children

How to Cultivate Holiday Rituals and Traditions with Your Children

It’s that time of year.

Fall colors have dropped, the wind has turned brisk, and we enter a season of celebration. Some of us begin with gusto, humming songs of the season with the same breath that extinguished the jack-o’-lantern. Others don’t like to rush it. Let the days percolate—that’s your motto. The holidays will arrive, and when they do, you’ll gladly join our party.

And just as there is variety in when we celebrate, how and what we celebrate appear quite different from one home to the next. Festivities span a wide array of faith and culture, but there are common elements we share: family gatherings and good meals, warm hugs and good cheer. We play music and sing songs, exchange gifts and decorate homes and shops and streets. And while we make a new kind of merry, we also remember the past.

Where things get tricky.

The past is full of memories, some good and some bad. It never fails; as soon as we bring happy thoughts of yesteryear to mind, pesky memories hop along for the ride. We recall holiday hardships and think of loved ones no longer with us. Indeed, for many, the season becomes an exercise in bittersweet nostalgia.

If you find yourself particularly down during the holidays, you’re not alone. Seasonal depression is common. It’s okay to talk about it and it’s okay to seek help from doctors and counselors and loved ones when you need them.

Memory fuels tradition.

Once we sort through the memories, a few of them will turn thoughts into action. You know the ones I’m talking about. We remember and do—as we did before—and as those before us did too! Traditions are deeply rooted in family and our sense of belonging. They bring the past back to life, and as we share them with our children, they point us toward the future.

Of course, holiday traditions are as varied as the wind, with no two families exactly alike. Some traditions go back many generations. Others are starting now… with your family. Allow me to share some of our traditions. But as I do, start thinking about your family and the things that you do.

Cookie Day – We always have an all-day baking marathon sometime in early December. The entire family participates, and sometimes relatives and friends join in. We listen to Christmas music, roll dough, decorate cutouts and box up the treats for gatherings and gifts. We make a genuine mess. But there’s lots of laughter too (like the time my son turned a drummer boy into a shark with the right combination of frosting and sprinkles). There’s also much sampling—my favorite part!

White Christmas – Like many families, we watch Christmas movies this time of year. We have so many favorites that we never get through them all in a single season. But there’s one movie my daughter and I never skip: White Christmas (the 1954 musical with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney). A few years ago, the two of us went out on the town and took in an over-the-top stage version of the production. It was a time we’ll always remember.

Special Ornaments – Our Christmas tree is loaded with a menagerie of special ornaments, each recalling a particular season of life for each family member. Tales of past interests and adventures are retold as we trim and remember. We have collected so many ornaments that there are boxes for the odd years and others for the evens. And, yes… we’ve considered a second tree, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Gift Bags – Somewhere along the way, we stopped using wrapping paper and began exchanging gifts in homemade fabric bags. The cloth sports festive patterns, and the sacks can be reused year after year, but this wasn’t a conservation effort. Blame the early internet and my wife’s crafting fix. But unlike trendy fads, this one stuck; and I strongly suspect the practice will live on in our family for generations to come.

Early Exchange – A job in the medical field means going to work on more than a few holidays. And since you can’t keep the kids waiting until after Christmas, exchanging presents before the 25th seemed like the right thing to do. Okay, who am I kidding? My wife and I were trading early gifts long before kids! Exactly how early varies from year to year—last year we waited until Christmas Eve (that’s good for us!). Why do we exchange early? There’s excitement in giving… and more time to play on the actual holiday.

Now it’s your turn.

Your holiday memories and traditions look and feel different than mine, right? Some are very old. Others are brand new. They unite your family now… and will live on in the future.

So let’s learn from one another. What holiday traditions does your family share? Tell us about them and, who knows, maybe one of your old traditions will become a new tradition in my family.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Mike Patrick, MD
Dr. Mike is an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s and host of PediaCast, our pediatric podcast for moms and dads. Each week, PediaCast covers news parents can use, answers listener questions, and delivers interviews with pediatric experts on a variety of topics. Dr Mike is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, where he serves as a faculty advisor for medical students. On the home front, he is married with two kids: a college-aged daughter and a son in high school. Prior to working in the emergency department, Dr Mike spent 10 years in a busy private practice, a time he says most prepared him for the practical advice he shares on PediaCast. Dr Mike also has an interest in roller skating. He learned to walk with skates on his feet, and his first job (age 10) was as a disc jockey at his hometown roller skating rink. He has also worked as a DJ at two radio stations, experiences which further prepared him to host our podcast!

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