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The Importance of Family Traditions

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All families have traditions. But some families, maybe yours, don’t understand why these matter. The importance of family traditions has been proven by research but, as usual, God knew traditions mattered way before modern science.

Traditions are repeatedly engaging in any activity intentionally to strengthen family relationships and connections. God had the Israelites begin new traditions as soon as they left Egypt. He knew they needed to strengthen their relationships within their own families as well as within the nation.

The Importance of Family Traditions

The first tradition He established was Passover (Ex. 12; Num 9:1-5). But Passover was not the only tradition. Seven feasts are described and commanded in Leviticus 23: Passover (23:4-8); Unleavened Bread (23:6); First Fruits (23:10); Pentecost (23:16); Trumpets (23:24); the Day of Atonement (23:26-32); and Tabernacles or Booths (23:34).

In addition to these seven feasts, the Lord commanded the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25) and the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8). These traditions spanned a week (Sabbath), a year (the seven feasts), and seven years (Jubilee). This shows that traditions aren’t limited to annual activities.

That’s important to remember because many people only think about traditions as relating to holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Your family may also have weekly, monthly, and annual traditions.

In fact, you could have some traditions that are extremely rare. For example, one tradition in my family while growing up was a one-and-done: having a steak and lobster dinner to celebrate a 16th birthday. After the fourth child turned 16, that tradition was over.

Why Traditions Matter

Now that you’re convinced traditions are important because God instituted them and science confirmed what God already knew, here are some benefits of traditions.

Traditions create a sense of belonging, comfort, and security.

Knowing where you belong is an inborn need in all people. Babies seem to instinctively know they belong with those who take care of them. But as people grow, especially through adolescence, that need to know they belong becomes a driving force in many decisions.

Multiracial family birthday party

It’s why teenagers join gangs, high schools have reunions, and fraternities and sororities will never die out. Everyone wants to know they belong somewhere.

Having family traditions that are a part of your child’s life from birth onward assures him that he belongs in your family. It’s like being on the inside of an inside joke. You know you’re part of the group because you have these rituals, called traditions, that tie you all together.

Traditions keep family history alive and connect generations.

In a culture where people usually were born, lived, and died within a span of 50 miles, this connect seemed a given. That is not the case in the 21st century. But with families spread out wider than ever before, traditions keep those connections in place.

When you and all your siblings still make the same sugar cookie recipe for Christmas that’s been passed down for three generations, even though you’re hundreds of miles apart, you’re reaffirming those connections.

When your grandchild wears the same bonnet at her dedication that your daughter wore and that you wore, you’re connecting to each other through a shared history.

When you go through old family photos and albums every New Year’s Eve, you’re connecting new generations to their family history.

Traditions Pass on Core Family Values

You have core values. Everyone does. Every family also has core values. You may never have consciously considered what those core values are, but they are there. If you’re curious what they are, look at how you spend your time and your money.

One important job of families is to pass those core values on to the next generation. Traditions help you do that.

Open Bible with Christmas story and Christmas decorations. Selective focus.

When you always read Luke 2 before opening any presents on Christmas, you’re passing on the value that Jesus is more important than anything under the tree.

When you set aside one day every week for only family activities and church, you’re passing on the value that family and church are more important than friends, movies, work, parties, or whatever other options are out there.

Traditions Pass on Core Family Values

You have core values. Everyone does. Every family also has core values. You may never have consciously considered what those core values are, but they are there. If you’re curious about what they are, look at how you spend your time and your money.

One important job of families is to pass those core values on to the next generation. Traditions help you do that.

When you always read Luke 2 before opening any presents on Christmas, you’re passing on the value that Jesus is more important than anything under the tree.

When you set aside one day every week for only family activities and church, you’re passing on the value that family and church are more important than friends, movies, work, parties, or whatever other options are out there.

When you make a big deal out of achievement, you’re passing on the value that whatever the achievement was matters more than other activities. For example, celebrating a winning baseball season with a party and recognizing straight As on a report card with a high five passes on the value that baseball matters more than academic achievement. Just sayin’.

Traditions Provide Opportunities for Making Good Memories

Here’s the thing about good memories: they get you through hard times. Having built in opportunities for making more good memories builds the resilience muscles you’ll need at some point.

family camping around campfire

When you’re spending day after day in the hospital with your child who’s battling cancer, memories of sunny poolside vacations and hot cocoa Christmas mornings will sustain you both.

When you’re wondering if you can stick it out in your marriage during a rough patch (everyone has them), memories of those great road trips you take every fall and your favorite coffee shop Saturday morning dates will help you stay faithful and strong.

The bonus is that when times are good, those good memories make repeating the same traditions that much more precious. You’ll find an eagerness for your annual trip to the beach or your monthly thrift store and flea market outing. Not just because you have fun doing those things. But also, because doing them reminds you of all the other times you’ve done the same things – and how life and family have changed as well as how they haven’t.

Traditions Provide a Time for Reflection, Gratitude, and Vision

Traditions set aside time in your calendar for these three critical habits of reflection, gratitude, and vision.

Reflection means looking back at where you’ve been. Remembering the good times and the hard ones. Remembering family members who’ve passed away. Remembering achievements, failures (and the lessons learned), and the good and bad choices that have created the life you now have.

Gratitude focuses on the present. Every time you cut a birthday cake, gratitude should be served with every slice. One more year of loving this family and living in God’s grace. Every time you gather around the Thanksgiving table and recite 3 blessings from the previous year, gratitude rises to the front of your mind. Gratitude makes everything better.

Vision, often overlooked, is forward facing. As you decorate the Christmas tree together as a family the year your youngest child is a high school senior, you’ll begin thinking about how Christmas traditions will change in the future. As you cuddle on the couch with your husband waiting for the New Year to arrive, you’ll talk about your hopes and dreams.

Now that you clearly see the importance of family traditions, it’s time to be more intentional about your family’s traditions.

Some Traditions to Consider

Below are lists of traditions that you might want to consider adopting. Just remember the reason for traditions: intentionally strengthening family relationships. So if you think a Polar Bear Plunge would be a great tradition to start but everyone else in the family only thinks of tropical beaches, you might want to reconsider!

One more caution: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Instagram and Pinterest will give you unrealistic expectations of family bonding over campfires and s’mores. Don’t be tricked. No family is perfect, and no family tradition is perfect either.

Your goal is to strengthen family relationships. And sometimes the strongest bonds are forged when everything goes wrong. So don’t deep-six a tradition just because you had a bad experience. Learn and grow – and give up on perfection.

Traditions to Try

People Taking Pizza Slices.
  • Leaving teeth for the Tooth Fairy
  • Every month try a new recipe with everyone taking turns choosing what recipe to try
  • Decorating the Christmas tree together
  • Having a secret family greeting and farewell
  • Always reading 1 book and 1 passage of Scripture and praying together before bedtime
  • Polar Bear Plunge
  • Go swimming on …1st day of spring/summer/vacation
  • Watching or setting off fireworks for the 4th of July, New Year, or another holiday
  • Eating one meal a day together – or one meal a week if you have teenagers
  • Weekly family game nights
  • Watching the World Series together (Olympics, Superbowl, Tour de France,…)
  • Ice cream sundaes on 1st day of summer
  • Friday pizza and movie nights
  • One Saturday a month sleeping in the living room
  • Having a “red plate special” dinner once a month – where one family member is honored and praised
  • Saturday morning donuts with Dad (or Grandpa or Aunt Sue)
  • Staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve
  • Filling a Gratitude jar and reading aloud the notes every Sunday
  • Doing family Secret Santa or Secret Servant
  • Date day with each child once a month
  • Homemade lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner
  • Weekly date night with your husband/wife
  • Working together at a food bank or soup kitchen
  • Watching the Perseids meteor shower together every year
  • Having a special family meal to celebrate milestone birthdays like 10 (double digits), 14 (teenager), or 16 (driver’s license). Or special events like finishing a first chapter book, learning to bike ride without training wheels, hitting a home run, or getting a hat trick in hockey, and so on.

Now What?

OK, you’re all excited about family traditions. You’ve got some great ideas for new traditions you want to start – and maybe some ideas of old traditions that have outlived their usefulness.

The absolutely wrong thing to do is to announce all your great ideas to your spouse or kids and expect them to be all excited about these great ideas.

Family traditions are family traditions – so make sure the family is involved in any changes. Have some discussions. Pray and talk and then choose one change to make. Decide together and then see how that goes.

If you all love it, great! Make it a tradition. If you need a couple of tries (especially for a new weekly or monthly tradition) wait a while before deciding whether it works.

But in all this newness and excitement, keep a lot of your old traditions. After all, they’re traditions for a reason.

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