The importance of tradition and rituals

When I think about my childhood and adolescence,this is what is etched into my memory: 

  • Sitting at our dining room table and eating breakfast and dinner together, as a family, almost every day.
  • Driving to Brisbane for Christmas Holidays and staying with my mum’s parents and great grandmother. HUGE Christmas days with my Dad’s enormous family and alternating smaller ones with my Mum’s family. 
  • A week or two holidays at Burleigh Heads surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. Walking to North Burleigh and touching the rock, every afternoon. Bubble O’Bill ice creams.
  • My mum’s lasagne for dinner on every one of my birthdays.
  • Making nests from grass clippings and other bits and pieces picked from the garden in our favourite hat for the Easter Bunny to put our Easter eggs in.
  • Bush walking and swimming.
  • Planting trees, painting the local kindy or being involved in other local charity ventures that my mum was running or supporting at the time.

Why do I remember these things so vividly? Because we did them repetitively or they were one of our family traditions.

Tradition is defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. 

I remember my childhood with a lot of fondness, we were free but safe, we weren’t spoilt but we had everything we needed. We were loved and always made a fuss of. My parents actually did a bloody good job to be honest.

Establishing positive family traditions and rituals is an important part of family life. There is quite a lot of psychological research into the impact of ritual and tradition on childhood development. It is important to note that in situations where families experience some instability, e.g. divorce or loss, holding onto these traditions becomes even more important in maintaining stability for our children.

Over the last few days in constructing this post I have read a lot of journal articles and websites about the importance of tradition. All of them focussing on one or two of the benefits. This post I found by Brett and Kate McKay, over at The Art of Manliness, very elegantly pulled together all of the positives, which includes:

Provides a source of identity. The traditions and rituals held by a family will inevitably tell a story about them and their past. Be it cultural, religious or just renting the same holiday house at the same time of year, every year. Understanding where you come from and knowing you are a part of a bigger picture instills confidence.

Strengthens the family bond. Research has consistently found that families who engage in traditions, report stronger connection and unity than families that don’t. My dad’s family is enormous. There is three generations now, and if we all got together there would be about 80 or so of us. Whilst we are too big to get together for Christmas day anymore, every Boxing Day morning we do Scraps in the ParkWe all get together at about 10am at a park in Brisbane, with our Christmas ‘scraps’ and catch up for a few hours. I look forward to this day every year, as it literally is the only time I get to see some of my relatives outside of social media. 

Offer comfort and security. Family traditions and rituals offer the comfort of being a constant in a world that seems to be increasingly fast paced and busy. As I mentioned briefly above, traditions are also particularly important for families during times of change, instability and grief.

Traditions teach values. The importance of family and communication runs through my veins as a result of sitting down with my family almost every morning and night to have our meals. Daily traditions such as sharing meals, reading bed time stories, outside play, exercise, etc, reinforce more lateral values of communication, solidarity, education, being playful and health respectively. 

Adds to the rhythm and seasonality of life. Deep within our beings is the need to measure things in time, punctuated with milestones. Traditions allow us to look forward to a milestone in the future and reflect fondly on milestones in the past. They break up our year and seasons and provide the rhythm to our life.

Pass on cultural and religious heritage. I was always envious of the Dutch kids who got to open presents on Christmas eve, and the one Jewish girl in my class who celebrated Hanukkah and received a present EVRY DAY in the lead up to 25 December. My family had their own traditions (I didn’t realise it at the time of course) but it never seemed as exotic or exciting as these! Born to two Australian-born, not-very-strict-practicing Catholic parents, cultural or religious tradition outside of prawns and the beach was a little light on. I wouldn’t change it for the world though.   

Connects generations. Higher involvement with grandparents or other significant family members through tradition (and in general) has powerful positive outcomes for not only children, but are also connected with lower levels of maternal stress and higher level of paternal involvement.

Creates lasting memories. The repetitive nature of positive family rituals and traditions creates lasting memories in children. These can be particularly important in adulthood when we reflect and move forward with creating our own traditions with friends, partners or family.

Well, that’s about as intellectual as I get these days people. I hope you enjoyed it and learnt something. Now Robyna has some rad ideas on traditions you can start right now!

Family Tradition Ideas

 Family traditions are important all through out the year, but birthdays and Christmas time are the big ones.  With my son’s birthday coinciding with Christmas Eve, this time of year is all about tradition for us.  Here are some of my favourites:

Birthday Traditions

  • I have fond memories of crawling into my parents bedroom on birthdays, at some ungodly hour of the morning, and un-wrappping presents all together as family.  Now I share that tradition with my boys.
  • The child with the birthday gets special rights  – they can choose dinner, they can be excused from chores and they get to choose an activity for the day.
  • On very special birthdays, I think it’s a lovely idea to take your child out for a special dinner – just the birthday boy or girl and their parents.  For instance, when they turn 13, to recognise the milestone of moving into young adulthood.
  • I save cards – always have.  It’s a really nice tradition to scrap-book those cards, along with photos, with the child who celebrated their birthday. Yes, the chances of my five year old doing this for more than three minutes is nil to zero, but it’s the thought that counts, and I like doing it.  AND you can look back on that album in birthdays to come.  For those that would rather eat razor blades than scrap-book and hate clutter, it’s a nice idea to take photos of the card and message before recycling them and add those to the birthday album (digital or otherwise).
  • Make a balloon or streamer door for the birthday boy or girl to wake up to.  Here are some cute ones and there are tons all over Pinterest: Birthday Doors
  • And here are some great blog posts on just this birthday traditions and parties: Seven Cherubs: Fun Birthday Tradition Ideas , Putting Kids’ Parties into Perspective , Birthdays and Celebrations by Always Josefa , Heart Felt Living Party Archives , Party Ideas at frog, goose & bear

Christmas Traditions

  • Baking creates very strong memories – it has everything – scent, family, touch, laughter and ours always included Christmas carols as well. We would bake with my grandmother every year and now my mum and my sister join us as we bake for Christmas.
  • We love looking at Christmas lights in our area and we make a real evening out of it.  We don santa hats and carol in the car as we set off to see all the twinkling displays.
  • Every year my mum would make my sister and I a special Christmas dress. Now I do the same with my boys, but pairs of shorts.  Its loads of fun shopping for Christmas fabric together and my five year old is getting handier with the sewing machine.  Never too young to learn. This is a GREAT pattern that can easily be cut back into shorts rather than pants: Dana Made It pants
  • Sarah has already shared a lovely list of ways to give back, and I do think it’s an important Christmas tradition: 12 Ways to give back this Christmas
  • My family is Dutch, so we always would open our present on Christmas Eve.  With my boys, we celebrate the Australian way on Christmas morning, but I love the idea of  a special present for Christmas eve – a pair of new PJs and a Christmas DVD to watch that night.
  • As we are Dutch, we also celebrate St Nicholas Eve on the 5th December. One of the lovely things people do at St Nicholas is to write a small verse and match it with a funny (and inexpensive) present for each member of the family.
  • Advent calendars are always fun at Christmas time. Last year we were gifted with an absolutely delightful online version: Advent Calendar  This makes such a nice present for those that are near to your heart but live far away. Another cute advent idea is to collect 24 Christmas activities (simple things like: singing a carol, writing a letter to Santa, buying a present for the wishing tree, doing some Christmas craft) and work your way through them each day. Mother Down Under shares some more ideas. Mrs D Plus 3 also has an awesome one. You could have a reading advent calendar, where you share a book every day in the lead up to Christmas. Amanda from Cooker and a Looker shares her ideas here. Or you could just go for the chocolate version.
  • There are so many fun things at Christmas time that we can either view as chores or opportunities to make memories. This year, I am going to choose the memories!

What are your favourite things to do at Christmas time?  What are your fondest childhood memories?

12 thoughts on “The importance of tradition and rituals

  1. lightersideofparenting says:

    I read somewhere that simply having dinner together at least three times a week improves the mental health of children dramatically. Family rituals are so important.

    • Robyna says:

      We always try to eat together as a family and I think it’s so important (even if our food choices have tended towards the bland in recent years to accommodate the kids).

  2. Creatingw/KaraDavies (@MamaJillaroo) says:

    Christmas traditions from my childhood: no decorations or movies or clothing or carols until AFTER Thanksgiving dinner was done. The tree going up the next day. Christmas Eve church service followed by frozen pizza for dinner and one present to open. A brand new pair of pajamas (so we’d at least look nicely disheveled for photos the next day!). Cookies and milk out for Santa. Cinnamon rolls and scrambled eggs for breakfast Christmas Morning. Begging mom to stop doing her hair (she would actually get dressed for presents where we were pjs and only pjs) and sit down for presents! Opening said presents. Squirreling away our new goodies in our rooms, getting dressed while mom and dad made lunch. Hot roast turkey, honey ham, au gratin or mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole (ugh), cranberry sauce, rolls, sparkling apple juice…. you name it. Getting to play with our new toys while the adults “talked” at the adult table. Racing in for dessert when we heard mom put on the coffee maker. Day after Christmas, out comes the turkey for turkeytillas. There is much fighting for who gets a turkeytilla and who doesn’t. Sometimes mom roasts a turkey and dad deep fries one so there’s enough for leftovers! (I come from a family of 6, we like our turkeytillas.)

    Christmas traditions here: no decorations or music or clothing or anything until Thanksgiving Dinner is over. Decorating the house the next day or two later. Making cookies and everything nice for nibblies in December. Hanging out our stockings, including one for each of our babies. My mom has mini stockings for them at her house too, my babies are in every Christmas photo taken in front of the fireplace. 🙂 Christmas eve church service followed by pizza and one gift to open. Christmas with my inlaws at their house. Gifts and shenanigans while mum puts on a cold salady lunch. In my view, cold roast meats and salad are picnic food, not Christmas dinner. Therefore, I make turkey gravy stuffing and potatoes and bring them every year. I insist! Boxing Day lunch/grazing on leftovers/hitting the sales. Dinner on Boxing Day is turkeytillas. Leftover turkey, cheese, garlic salt in tortillas. Bake til crispy and gooey. Add sour cream and ketchup and dive in.

    New tradition is my mom ordering and sending down a personalized Christmas ornament each year. Our names and our babies names and the year. We have quite the collection going!

    • Robyna says:

      What a gorgeous lot of traditions – although I am not sure about the deep fried Turkey – I have some other American friends who assure me it’s delicious! That’s a great tradition with the ornaments too.

  3. Planet Pav says:

    After my parents divorced most of our family traditions were lost so hubby and I have made a conscious effort to create lasting traditions for our family (to the point where my kids have been known to say ‘Please Mum, not another tradition!’)
    Some of my faves are –
    – We go to the local carols/fireworks every year with our dear family friends, next week will be our 14th year! (We also spend every cup day and grand final day with these friends)
    – Every year I bake sticky date pudding and all the trimmings for Christmas Day and I will do so again this year at the request of my kids even though I quit sugar in April. I was actually pretty chuffed when they said ‘you have to Mum, it’s a tradition (and no I am not allowed to attempt a ‘sugar free’ version!)
    – Whenever we have a celebration (birthday, graduation, new belt in karate etc) the person being celebrated chooses a restaurant for dinner and we all attend, no matter what. Shifts at work get changed, party invitations declined etc and we enjoy a meal out, just the four of us. This is my all time favourite because as the kids get older and have part-time jobs, cars, boyfriends/girlfriends and ever-expanding social calendars dinners together can sometimes be few and far between.

  4. Vicki @ Boiled Eggs & Soldiers says:

    What a lovely post. I think we are creating traditions without really realising it as it’s only when I thought about it to comment did I realise what we actually do. The annual Santa photo, the advent calendar with special tasks to do each day (and a treat), going to Carols or a church service Christmas Eve, chocolate and panettone for Christmas breakfast and my husband makes a trifle – the one and only time he seems to be in the kitchen all year! Plus we make gingerbread people as gifts too. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Lauren @ Life at Number Five says:

    I love this! I think traditions are so important and are so much fun!! My husband and I watch the Star Wars saga every Christmas, a bit weird, but it’s ours.
    Growing up we’d get one present on Christmas Eve and we’d have a Santa Sack in our bedrooms we were allowed to open on Christmas morning before opening the ‘under the tree’ presents. In hindsight I’m pretty sure this was to keep us from waking up our parents too early!! But it was so much fun opening them with my little brother!

    • Robyna says:

      I better not tell my son about the star wars trilogy tradition – he’d be onto that like a shot! I love the one present on Christmas eve thing – we are doing it for the first time in our house this Christmas.

  6. Sasha @ Fromtheleftfield says:

    Fab post. And so pertinent. I think as we get caught up with the busyness of life we forget about the simple traditions that hold our families together. Kids thrive on routine and consistency, and traditions provide just that. We too had the awesome Birthday tradition of the Birthday kid got to pick their favourite meal for dinner. The kitchen would always be decorated in balloons and streamers… right through to high school. I keep my kids’ cards too. Memories are everything. x

    • Robyna says:

      Thank you for stopping by – the memories really are everything aren’t they? I have a feeling kids like those traditions even more in their teens.

Comments are closed.