When you think of your own happy memories from childhood, what is it that immediately comes to mind? For many of us, it will be a beloved family tradition. The things we did together, consistently, regularly, year after year. Trips to the lake. Decorating the Christmas tree. The special birthday pancakes your mum always made you.
These memories make us smile. And these traditions are more important than we realise. Family traditions help to create a positive, healthy family culture. As they are passed down from generation to generation, they create a sense of belonging, bring families together, and reinforce important family values and beliefs.
They also provide comfort to family members who come to rely on their regular presence in their lives. Children particularly, with their need for routine and consistency, feel anchored by family traditions. And many of their early memories are centred around these important occasions, because of how meaningful they felt at the time.
Why are family traditions so important?
They create a sense of belonging
Family traditions help to build family identity and a sense that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. When we feel like we truly belong and are accepted, we feel confident and secure in ourselves and develop a healthy self-identity.
They create security and safety by providing predictability
Regular family traditions help children know what to expect. They act as anchors for children, throughout their week, month or year. They come to anticipate these rituals and they help ease transitions as they provide some stability and something to look forward to during times of change and adjustment.
They help pass along important family values
Family traditions are generally based around important beliefs and values. They are a way to live out these beliefs and practice them alongside our children. They help to preserve the culture and history of a family which would otherwise be lost to the passage of time.
They strengthen connections
Family traditions are fun! They are a way for us to share in each other’s joy and build meaningful relationships based on common interests and experiences. So in this way, family traditions connect us. Not only to present members of our family but also to generations past and to our own family history.
Creating your own family traditions
Creating (and maintaining) family traditions doesn’t have to be hard, but it can take some intentional planning. To start with, think about what your family already enjoys doing together, and then build from there! You might like to consider family traditions from your own childhood that you want to pass down to your children, or you might like to start new ones that are unique to your family.
Family traditions also don’t need to be centred only around the holidays. While the holiday season is certainly a great time for family traditions, it is not the only time! You can create family traditions around anything that feels meaningful for you, at any time of the year. There is no right or wrong when it comes to family traditions. However, there are a few things you might like to consider when you’re finding what works for your family.
1. Keep it simple
If your family tradition is elaborate, expensive, or requires a lot of props or supplies, you are less likely to keep it going. Often, the simplest traditions are the best ones anyway! Family rituals can be as simple as playing games, having meals together, and sharing a laugh. Similarly, too many family rituals can feel overwhelming and take away from the magic of the ones you already have. My advice is to keep it as simple as you can!
2. Be flexible
Sometimes you’ll try something and it will flop. Sometimes your traditions will evolve over time. And sometimes you’ll get rid of something altogether. And all of those things are ok. “Because we’ve always done it” is no reason to continue doing it. If a tradition is feeling like a chore, if not everyone is enjoying it, or if it’s just not working for you anymore, it’s ok to change it, or stop doing it altogether. Be open to changing things up or trying new things. And remember, sometimes the best traditions are the ones that happen accidentally, so don’t keep yourself too locked in!
3. Focus on your values
If your tradition is meaningful to you, you’re more likely to keep it up (and enjoy it!). Think about what is really important to you and what kind of values you want to teach your children. Then choose traditions that reflect those and help you live them out.
Family traditions to try:
Not sure what kind of family traditions would work for your family? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Why not set aside a regular night to spend together as a family? Everyone agrees on the frequency – maybe weekly or monthly – and commits to keeping this night free for some fun family time. Give these ideas a try:
- Family movie night – Each member of the family has a turn choosing the movie each week. Then pop some popcorn, put your comfiest pyjamas on and snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie together.
- Family game night – This is a super fun way to end a long week and a little more interactive than a movie night. You can play a board game, a card game, or even have a video game tournament!
- Family fun night – If you’re a family who likes to get out and about together, you could take turns choosing a fun activity to do outside of the house together every week or month. Or maybe your family has one activity they love to do together that you want to do more regularly. Think mini-golf, tenpin bowling, or even trampolining!
Whether you like to travel far and often, or you prefer to stay close to home when you holiday, family holidays are a wonderful opportunity for connection and memory-making. Here are some ideas for you to try:
- Got a favourite holiday spot? Head to the same destination once per year – you could stay in the general area, or even in the same cabin, house or room!
- Take a family selfie at a special spot each time you’re there – then you can watch how everyone changes over the years!
- Go on an annual summer camping trip
- Go on an annual winter snow trip
Sharing a meal is a great way to connect with the people we love, and many of our already established traditions naturally revolve around food anyway, so this is a simple way to establish new traditions in your family. Try these ideas:
- Cook an old favourite family recipe together, or create a new one of your own!
- Create a regular food tradition on a certain day of the week eg Taco Tuesdays, Friday Pizza, Saturday morning pancakes
- Do you have a favourite restaurant that you love to go to? Or could you choose one? Create a tradition around that! You could eat there on a regular basis eg every Friday night, or maybe it can become your go-to place for birthday dinners, graduations or even end-of-term or semester celebrations!
If you’re a sporty family then watching or playing your favourite sports is a great way for you to connect and a simple but fun way to create some new traditions! Try these ideas:
- Don your team colours, make some snacks and watch your favourite sport together on the TV each week
- Support your local community by attending games together on a weekend
- Have a yearly family tournament with a trophy for the winning team (do this one during the Holidays to include extended family too!)
Birthdays are a great opportunity to create family traditions because they communicate to the birthday girl or boy just how much they are loved and appreciated. Try these ideas:
- Make a special birthday breakfast with the birthday girl or boys favourite foods
- Birthday love bomb – everyone in the family takes turns saying things they love about the birthday boy or girl (or you could write them on hearts and stick them on the recipient’s bedroom door!)
- Birthday dinner – Go out for dinner to the birthday girl or boys favourite restaurant or order in their favourite cuisine
Spending time in nature is a fabulous way to create family traditions. If being outdoors and getting active is important to your family, try these ideas:
- Sunday afternoon walk, bike ride, or hike
- Find a local farm, orchard, or berry patch and visit it at the same time each year to pick fruit together
- If you can’t get away on holidays each year, try an annual backyard camping trip!
- Participate in a yearly fun run as a family
Kindness is a value that is important to every family I’ve ever encountered! So create some traditions that encourage your family members to live out this value! Here are a few ideas for you:
- Participate in Clean Up Australia Day as a family
- Pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child each October
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or another charity at the same time each month or year
- Have an annual spring clean and choose items to donate
Above all, remember that all families are unique and so too are family traditions. Your family traditions don’t need to look like anyone else’s, but they do need to be meaningful for you!
Sarah Conway is a child and adolescent psychologist, mother of 4, and founder of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 15 years of experience working in mental health with children, teenagers, and families. Sarah’s mission is to help parents move away from punitive parenting strategies and towards mindful, intentional parenting that builds emotional intelligence in kids and parents alike. As a busy mum herself, she knows firsthand how difficult mindful parenting can be, particularly when it was never modeled by our own parents. That’s why she provides parents and children with simple, practical strategies and tools that help them learn to manage emotions – together. She believes that changing the way we parent will change the world.