Family traditions are all of the special things that families do together on a regular basis- whether it’s daily (always eating dinner together), weekly (Friday night movies and popcorn), monthly (taking our kids on “date nights,” or “super-noches” as we call them), or yearly (driving around to look at Christmas lights). In our hectic lives, routine customs create special memories of your family having a great time together, that your kids will remember and probably pass on to their family.
When we took the many hours of parenting classes required to adopt our two sons, they emphasized the importance of family traditions as a way to strengthen family bonds, teach our new children our family values, and give our kids a sense of identity and security within our family: “The Smith Family always makes pancakes on Sunday mornings” or “The Lin Family plays football together every Thanksgiving” or “The Morales Family always makes a birthday sign for the birthday child.” Repeating and emphasizing that your family does it together, helps families to bond with their child, as they are included in the “we.” In reality, not only adoptive families will benefit from creating special family traditions- all families will enjoy family rituals and become stronger as they incorporate them into their lives.
Traditions do not have to be complex, time-consuming, or cost a lot of money. When asked, kids can help to come up with new family traditions, and then you can work together to make it a ritual, and share the knowledge and experience. If you’d like to get more examples, check out The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day by Meg Cox, or I Love You Rituals by Becky Bailey (these are more songs, fingerplays, daily rituals). Both of these books come highly recommended by Attachment Parenting and adoption professionals.
Here are some of our winter family traditions. Please adapt, repeat, or share with your family, and build your own family culture!:) Leave your favorite WINTER family traditions in the comments or on facebook. Then check back in the spring for more seasonal family traditions!
One favorite family tradition we’ve had is to visit the Science and Industry Museum (in Chicago) for their annual exhibit of “Christmas Tree Around the World.” If you’ve never been, it is incredible!! There are also exhibits on Chanukkah, Diwali, Chinese New Year, and Ramadan, and more, with live performances of songs and dances, and facts about how each country celebrates these winter holidays. This is one of my most favorite traditions! We always take pictures in front of the trees that are significant to my family: Mexico, China, Ireland, Slovenia. We frequently visit this after Thanksgiving when it first opens, and it really feels like the Christmas season has started.
A new tradition this year: caroling at our friends’ houses. We learned a couple of songs and attempted to surprise our friends one evening. My kids liked it so much that we repeated it on two other nights (after getting requests from kids at school!).
Every single night, we snuggle and read books on the couch. Every single night, throughout the year. During the winter we read about all of the winter holidays, stories about snow, the gingerbread man, and other seasonal books:). When it’s 80 degrees out and humid, this helps us get into the Christmas spirit!
Every year we attempt to make lots of Christmas gifts. From ornaments, to boxes, to t-shirts, to soap- I try to find little projects that the kids can do without much help.
Watching Christmas movies! We have movie night every Friday, so during the winter we sometimes pick Christmas movies. Our must-see favorites are White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas
Every year our kids participate in “Breakfast in Bethlehem,” a living Nativity scene. The kids can dress up as an angel, as Mary and Joseph, as a shepherd, or any farm animal- and then as they read the story of the first Christmas, the characters come on stage. Here’s sweet Maya as angel last year.
We usually make pancakes on the weekends, but during the winter we change up the designs. These are supposed to be reindeer!? I am not the most creative, but the kids LOVE it. By the way, these M&Ms melted when I flipped the pancakes over!
We always, always make gingerbread cookies with Grandma, to the point where my kids don’t think we can make them at our own house:). When they were little, they made silly green hats with my mom- and this has now turned into the tradition. “We have to make the hats with the cookies!”
Every year in my parents’ local newspaper, they publish the most lit-up houses in the area, with a map and guide. These are SO over the top, and outrageously decorated, with coordinating music and moving figures- the kids go crazy, we blast Christmas music, and the adults just end up laughing the whole time. I need to get a picture of this one house that has a huge train set that the kids can get out and control- I’m thinking our house will never make the list, which is why it’s fun to see others’ hard work.
We always visit Santa! In line for this visit on Christmas Eve night, I asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas. Maya looked around, saw a wreath, and said “a bow.” Perfect, I thought. It finally was our turn, and Santa asked her the same question, but misunderstood her answer. “A boat?” Her eye lit up, “Yes! A boat!!” I imagine Santa had a hard time with all of his obligations that night to come up with a boat, but somehow he did! The same visit, Ricky asked for a gingerbread house with a slide. Whew! I’m not sure how Santa made one that evening out of graham crackers and candy, but he must have finished around midnight with a lot of help from his elves! You can see why these visits are so crucial, though I suggest going before the 24th.
Christmas Eve we eat “goodie” (which is what my kids call tapas or finger food/appetizers) and watch White Christmas. The kids leave out cookies and milk for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph, and try to go to sleep. We always sleep at my mom and dad’s house in a big sleepover that ends quite early in the morning. The rule is: no one can go downstairs until the coffee is on, faces are washed, dogs are walked, and the adults are all awake. 🙂
Excitedly waiting at the top of the stairs!! Hurry up grown-ups!!!!
After opening presents (though sometimes presents wait until other aunts/uncles/cousins can make it to my parents’ house!:) we go to mass. Don’t they look so angelic?? 🙂
We have lots of parties with family in the weekends before and after, and sometimes even a visit from Santa. Playing with cousins and huge meals are favorite traditions in our family (like many other families!).
When in Mexico, we celebrate Las Posadas, a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. It ends in a big party: delicious food, songs, a piñata, and luces de bengala (sparklers). See how we celebrate las posadas here!
If there’s snow, we love to go sledding and have hot chocolate.
Every year since Vivi was born, we walk around downtown Chicago checking out the decorations in Marshall Fields (sigh, now Macy’s), watching the ice skaters, visiting the Christkindl market, and staying warm with hot cocoa and lots of layers!
We have family traditions every New Year’s Eve to play lots of board games. This game is similar to Bingo, but is called “Lotería.”
Here is our family’s typical New Year’s Eve fare: tapas and finger foods that we like to call “goodies” (we have the same family tradition for Christmas Eve!). With music blasting, the kids run around playing and dancing, and are able to eat “on the run.” The adults relax with some rompope or sangría, and get ready for the countdown. We usually head to the downtown for a bit to see the carnival-like atmosphere (and sometimes they have an early countdown for kids!). Then we come home for the final house. In true Mexican tradition, we eat 12 grapes at the chimes of midnight, for good luck and prosperity in the new year (technically we also need to wear red underwear!).
Ethiopian Christmas is just a little bit later, on January 7th. Ganna, as it is called in Amharic, is a time when families gather for church and then a celebratory meal. We like to go out for Ethiopian food!
January 6th, we have Reyes Magos, the Feast of the Epiphany. In Mexico, there is are family traditions of buying special bread this day and having a party with friends. As you choose your piece of bread, everyone waits to see if you got the niño Jesus (baby Jesus) in your slice- if you did, you must have a party with tamales on February 2nd, El Dia de la Candelaria.
Finally, we have Chinese New Year (which varies from year to year, celebrated somewhere near January or February). We usually go to several parties, parades and/or restaurants with other adoptive families and with Chinese friends. A couple of times the Chinese Consulate has had a wonderful party with games and food for the kids. We always follow the traditions of getting haircuts, doing a huge spring cleaning of our house, and eating some looooong noodles for a long life:).
So many family traditions during these few months!!! Just writing this post is getting me excited for the upcoming months:). What are rituals or customs that you follow during the winter months? Please share your ideas here!
Love these ideas. We do many of them as well. Here is a fun one that is so easy to incorporate. When we wrap the kids presents we don’t write their name on the tag instead we write a code name (usually a type or candy bar or unique candy) on their present instead. Mom, Dad and Santa are the only ones who know the code. Then on Christmas morning when they empty their stocking they will find the candy left by Santa that reveals their special code name for the year. This is so much fun and totally eliminates the kids shaking packages to figure out what is inside.
That is AWESOME!!!!!! I love that idea!!!!! 🙂 I can imagine how fun that would be for the kids:)- I can also imagine the nicknames that would arise!! haha:) I love that!!!
Mud Hut Mama says
Such a lovely post Becky! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what traditions I want to start with my kids. You have some great ones here.
Thanks Jody! I can’t wait to see what other families do:)- I love adding new ones!
I recently wrote about our traditions here: http://grtlyblesd.blogspot.com/2012/12/how-we-do-christmas.html I love how multicultural yours are! This year, we’re studying different countries of the world, and next week we start learning how they do Christmas. Hopefully we’ll find some new things to try, and may develop more traditions out of those. You have a lovely family. 🙂
That’s wonderful!!! I love looking at how one holiday is celebrated around the world (like Christmas:). Thank you so much for sharing your post- I’m headed there now to check it out!
Wow, I don’t think anyone can top your family’s Multicultural Christmas traditions! When we go to Puerto Rico we celebrate “Noche Buena” Christmas Eve, it’s a big family gathering, music and lots of food. At midnight we all exchange gifts, though little ones must wait until morning for Santa’s gifts. 🙂 Here at home (USA) we have a traditional Christmas meal, and I’ve incorporated Three Kings Day, too. So all of our decorations stay up until January 6th. Really enjoyed, and loved reading your post!
What wonderful traditions. It sounds like this is a very special time of year for your family! We’re a young family, so we’re still building traditions. Now that my oldest is nearly three, it’s so much more special – she’s suddenly an enthusiastic, active participant in everything! I’m inspired by all you do to strengthen our traditions even more as she grows 🙂
I agree- and the older the kids get, they become not only more active participants, but they begin to invent and shape the traditions they love! Something like the “green hats” while making gingerbread cookies, where they remembered it from one year, and now remind us every year that we have to do it:). Something you do this year with your daughter may “accidentally” become something you’ll do for the next 10 years, as it morphs into a tradition:). How fun that your daughter is 3- it’s such a great age when they start getting into all of the activities more!! 🙂
Well, this is our first Christmas with our son (adopted from India), but we’ve already introduced him to our tradition of going to the local farm to get our tree. I also took him to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, though he didn’t seem too phased by it. Tomorrow we’ll make Christmas cookies, and next week, he’ll enjoy our annual homemade pizza on Christmas Eve. Other than that, we have a lot of new traditions to establish!
Congratulations Heather!:) I love the homemade pizza on Christmas Eve!! 🙂
We ate 12 grapes this year and made wishes for each grape on New Years Eve! It was very fun to hear the kids’ wishes. -Amy
Oh that’s great Amy!:) I love to see what the kids wish for!
Often when creating these traditions we get more excited than the children but they soon catch on. The creativity shown is just awesome and they will remember these moments most often carry them into their parenting years. It’s about having fun because no is going to remember what they got for presents but , all the fun and laughter, you bet. To Break Bread