Why Establishing Family Traditions is Important


Every Saturday night in Autumn and Winter is “movie night” in our house. Watching movies as we have a carpet picnic has become a weekly ritual. During the week we go to the local library and choose the movie we’re going to watch. Then we decide on what we’re going to eat. The basic rule is something quick and not too messy that we can eat in simple take away boxes. Then everyone participates in making the meals and “setting everything up”. We didn’t know just how much our son looked forward to these nights until one of the parents at school asked us if we could tell her “exactly what we did” because her son wanted to do just like “his friend did with his parents every Saturday night.”

Every family has family traditions. According to Jay Schvaneveldt and Thomas R. Lee, there are 15 top family traditions:


I still remember celebrating birthdays when we’d cook the birthday girl’s or boy’s favourite meal then have chocolate cake and custard. It was always chocolate cake and custard. And we always had some left over for breakfast. Yum! One of my husband’s favourite memories is the 2 days every year his family would spend preparing home-made sausages. The whole extended family took part in this ritual that would give them enough sausage to last the whole year. They’d buy pork and then family members would take turns mincing, seasoning, frying and tasting bits to see if the seasoning was alright (his favourite bit) and filling the sausage casings.

There is plenty of research about why having family traditions is awesome. In her book The Joy of Family Traditions, Jennifer Trainer Thomson highlights some of the proven benefits of family traditions from research undertaken on the subject:

– family traditions lower stress because they reassure and add to our wellbeing.
– children who feel connected to their families are much less likely to abuse drugs and engage in other risky behaviour, even when both parents are working.

Other findings on traditions have been consistent:

– One study found that diabetic children in families which maintained regular traditions had fewer behavioural problems than those whose families had no traditions.

– Another study found that traditions serve as an anchor during hard times; they let you know “that life goes on.”

– A third study found that when families of alcoholics maintained dinner time and holiday ritual practices and did not allow a parent’s alcoholism to interfere with this time, the chances of transmitting alcoholism to the next generation were greatly reduced.

Family traditions thus:

– Act as a foundation for families.
– Give families a sense of identity.
– Are a source of strength and stability as they give families something to rely on.
– Bring families closer together.

But how do you go about establishing family traditions?

Establishing family traditions: the dos and don’ts

1) Do not make it about quantity

When starting out with establishing family traditions, the temptation is great to try out a whole lot of traditions. Traditions are repeated actions and behaviours and they require intentionality. They are things you do repeatedly so come up with stuff you’ll actually find time (and energy) to do. It’s OK to skip some days but consistency is key when it comes to traditions. Starting slow is better than too much too soon.

2) Make it intentional

When deciding on a family tradition, think about the things you’d like to achieve. Our “movie night” tradition was initially an attempt to foster our son’s creativity (by helping him make and decorate the take out boxes) and a fun way to make him participate in deciding on and making meals.

3) Make it fun

Traditions are not supposed to leave you frustrated and dreading every Saturday night. Choose fun traditions in line with the entire family. What’s your family identity? What does your family like? What doesn’t your family like?

4) Don’t get too complicated

Many fantastic traditions are dirt cheap. If you’re short on ideas of traditions from holidays and birthdays to bed times, meal times, pets, and even chores, The Book of New Family Traditions has hundreds (literally) of ideas. Keep it simple.

5) Make sure everyone can participate

One of the reasons traditions fosters cohesion is because everyone participates. Choose traditions that require the participation of everyone. Let the children decide the menu, help prepare meals or d the cooking, choose films or board games, set the table, help make take-away boxes…the list is endless.

6) Be flexible

So the idea you thought would be great is just not turning out to be that great with your family? Let it go. If no one is looking forward to the family tradition, it’s a sign it’s time to change.

6) Start now

Don’t procrastinate. The more you procrastinate, the more likely you are to do nothing. There are so many traditions that you can start right now. Search the internet for family traditions that suit you. Look for ideas from family and friends. The Book of New Family Traditions is a great resource.

Five of our family traditions or those on our to-do list

Our family has a long list of traditions and a longer list of traditions we’d like to start. Here are five of them

1) Movie night

Combining our “movie night” with a carpet picnic enables all family members to participate in the making of the movie night, from choosing the movies to preparing for the carpet picnic.

2) One meal theme for each day of the week

We recently began our “simplicity meal plan” after reading the book Simplicity Parenting. We really should have thought of it sooner. The authors suggest that meals should be predictable – you choose one theme for each day of the week and stick to it (pasta night, steak night, soup night, etc.). According to them, recurring meals provide children with roots and are easier to prepare.

3) International night

International night is one day each month on which we celebrate one country. After choosing the country sufficiently early, we start compiling stuff about it. What do they do? How do they dress? What do they eat? What music do they listen to? We then look for their food recipes and prepare a meal that we eat together. Both Google and the local library are invaluable resources for this.

4) Outdoor picnic

Saturday night in Spring and Summer is “outdoor picnic night” and board games when the weather can allow.

5) A read-aloud tradition

We read bedtime stories to our kids separately but we’d love to start a read-aloud tradition for the whole family.

Please share your favourite family traditions in the comments below. I’d love to hear about them.

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