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Why are traditions so important?
We all strive for our families to be close-knit, loving, happy. While a ton of factors go into achieving that goal, traditions are a big piece of the puzzle.
Saturday Means Pancakes explores ways to celebrate and connect through simple, meaningful, fun traditions, and today I’m telling you exactly why!
Here are 10 powerful reasons to prioritize family traditions.
Traditions help you live out your values.
What’s most important to you? What are the values you most want to pass on to your kids?
Traditions provide an opportunity to put those values into practice. For example:
|If your family values _______________________,
|you might have a tradition of _______________________.
|baking popular types of Norwegian cookies every Christmas.
|attending weekly Mass as a family.
|LGBTQ freedom and pride
|attending pride events every June.
|spending time in nature
|going on family hikes.
Identify your most dearly held values, then deliberately create traditions to align with them.
Traditions offer a source of comfort and predictability.
If you’ve been a parent for more than, say, three minutes, you’ve heard the advice: kids thrive on routine. Traditions offer security both in times of relative ease and when life is marked by hardship.
In the wise words of Mr. Rogers, “Traditions, big or small, create anchors of stability, especially in rough seas.”
In my own life, the importance of family traditions has been highlighted the last couple years; in addition to the covid pandemic and accompanying school disruptions, we also experienced the (wonderful but complicated!) addition of a third child to our family.
We’ve held fast to Bakery Day, Saturday morning pancakes, and the seasonal traditions that mark different times of year.
Traditions capitalize on anticipation.
Numerous studies on anticipation have concluded that looking forward to the future is good for us.
Anticipation of positive events triggers the release of feel-good hormones in our brains.
It also helps us navigate uncertainty by “giving us hope, a sense of control, and an implicit knowing that positive emotion will happen in the future” (Greg Kushnick).
By building a family life rich in traditions, you give your kids the benefits of year-round anticipation!
When Halloween is over, you get to start talking about the fun things you’ll do for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When Valentine’s Day is over, you get to talk up how you’ll celebrate the First Day of Spring and all your mischievous ideas for April Fools’ pranks.
There’s always something to look forward to when you’ve incorporated daily, weekly, and seasonal traditions into your family life.
Traditions offer happiness and love right here, right now.
When you carry out traditions, you’re living in the present.
You’re not planning your next vacation. You’re not thinking about what happened at work yesterday. You’re focused on the beautiful now.
Hanging streamers on the eve of your kiddo’s birthday zeroes you in on the love you feel for that child.
Turning on your upbeat morning playlist focuses your energy on the gift of the day before you.
Even commemorating an obscure occasion like International Octopus Day helps you live in the here and now. Watch a video of a blanket octopus with your kids, and you’ll all come away with a heightened sense of wonder.
Traditions invite you to remember that every day is worth celebrating.
Traditions nurture family identity.
Feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves is a deep human need. Traditions are a connector that offer a sense of belonging.
When you lead your kids in shared family rituals, you’re saying, “This is who we are, what we believe, what makes us, us.”
Shared meaning and memories strengthen your family’s bonds. They also help your child in their quest to develop their own personal history and identity.
Traditions offer a sense of larger belonging.
Building on #5, traditions give your child a sense of larger belonging, connecting them to those who have come before them as well as those around them.
Take the tradition of the Christmas tree (or insert your own tradition here if you don’t celebrate Christmas). Why is it such a sacred tradition?
Yes, it’s fun and merry to add greenery to your house and throw on colorful decorations, especially in the midst of dreary December.
But it runs much deeper than that – putting up a tree also connects you to the Christmases of your own childhood and the Christmases of your ancestors’ childhoods.
It connects you to Christmas-celebrating families scattered across the globe.
It connects you and your kin to the Christmas-celebrating family down the block whose ideals and beliefs might vary vastly from your own, but whose strings of white lights twinkle just the same.
Traditions communicate love.
When you make the special meal or put up the special decorations or sing the special song, you are effectively saying, “I love you.”
Traditions require time and effort.
When your child sees you putting in the work to make the traditions magic happen, they see how much you care. The witness that you’re invested in their happiness and want them to feel loved.
And with traditions that happen repeatedly, like Saturday pancakes or annual birthday streamers, your kids get the message that you’ll put the effort in again and again.
“I love you” on repeat.
Traditions impart new skills and experiences.
Through traditions, you can expose your kids to new situations and teach them life skills.
For example, making cinnamon rolls alongside your child for Easter morning breakfast might be a tradition.
But it’s also a potential cooking lesson.
Bringing your 10-year-old on a one-on-one trip to honor the transition to double digits might be a tradition.
But it’s also an opportunity to teach travel skills – let your child hold the boarding passes, find the gate, buy the train passes, etc. — in a way that you can’t when the whole family’s along.
One of our family’s birthday traditions is assigning a new responsibility and a new privilege to each child on their birthday.
I intend to use this tradition to introduce our boys to responsibilities like doing laundry and making meals, and privileges like walking to school by themselves and getting their own cell phones.
Traditions offer a treasure chest of memories to carry into adulthood.
When your child is grown and headed off on their own, you want to send many wonderful memories with them.
In The Art of Making Memories, Mike Wiking writes,
“Happiness research suggests that people are happier with their lives if they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past…memories are the cornerstones of our identity. They are the glue that allows us to understand and experience being the same person over time. They are our superpower, which allows us travel in time and sets us free from the limitations of the present moment. They shape who we are and how we act. They influence our mood and help form our dreams for the future.”
No pressure. 😉
But in simple summary, traditions lead to happy memories, and happy memories matter.
Traditions help you simplify and prioritize.
I purposefully saved this reason for last. At this point, I hope you’re thoroughly convinced just how important it is to make traditions part of your family life.
So now use traditions as a way to say no to other demands on your time.
There are infinite demands on your time and energy, from replacing the broken light fixture to attending piano recitals. From traveling for a conference to getting your kid to the latest birthday party.
The family to-do list is never done, only shifting as new tasks replace the old ones.
Though some of the busyness of modern life is unavoidable, we must not forget that how we spend our time is a choice.
Don’t say, “We just had too much going on this year to visit an apple orchard.” If that apple orchard visit is a cherished tradition, look at your schedule in August and get it on the calendar.
The broken light fixture can wait another day. You can leave for the orchard straight from the piano recital. The conference isn’t until the end of the month, and you just might need to miss a birthday party to make that important tradition happen.
When you prioritize your family’s traditions, you take control of your time. You choose how you’re spending, in the words of Mary Oliver, “your one wild and precious life.”
You’re busy, you’re stressed, you’re juggling a lot of things. I get it. Me, too.
But even with all the other demands on your time and energy, you’ll never regret prioritizing family traditions.
A decade or two from now, when your kids are off on their own, you won’t say, “I wish I hadn’t bothered to make valentines with the kids” or “we didn’t really need those first day of school traditions.”
Sure, there will be traditions you try out that don’t stick. Or ones your family will outgrow.
But for all the reasons noted above, it’s worth the effort to press on.
Family traditions matter. It’s great to have you along on the journey.