By: Dr Justin Coulson
Ok. I know. You’re not even sure if you should read this article. Christmas is already busy enough. Non-stop events, too much money spent, and frantic 15 km/h driving on jam-packed roads. Gah! Who wants more to do?
But we can make Christmas meaningful for our families without exhausting our families or ourselves. One of the best and most powerful of these is to have family traditions.
Why Traditions Work
Research shows that the happiest families have traditions – not just at Christmas, but also throughout the year. Family traditions help our kids make sense of life. They provide predictability and a sense of security and safety. Most importantly, traditions help our children feel as though they fit in somewhere and traditions protect them from negative outside influences. In fact, a 2014 study of approximately 250 teens showed that the practice of family traditions and rituals had a significant protective role by helping increase social connectedness and reduce anxiety and depression.
Christmas is a brilliant time to institute traditions, or reinvigorate those that might have lapsed over the years. At Christmas people are naturally more inclined to get into the spirit of the season, and celebrate by engaging in a tradition with loved ones. And yes, even cranky teens.
We don’t want to bring more stress to the season, however, and instituting holiday traditions shouldn’t add more to your plate. Instead, scale back on things that don’t bring you joy (shopping!) and replace them with things that do.
So, reinvigorate forgotten family traditions, or brush off some from your own childhood. And if you’re stuck for ideas, here are some of my favourites, which will be sure to increase the magic and joy of the Christmas season (thank you to the Happy Families family for sharing).
Rethink the Advent Calendar
The advent calendar is a well-loved Christmas tradition. But this year, why not consider a different kind. One idea is a kindness advent calendar, where each day you perform an act of kindness or charity for someone else. Or try a book advent calendar, where you read a Christmas book every day for the month of December.
The Christmas Eve Box
Create a Christmas Eve box with a new set of pyjamas for each family member, a Christmas movie, popcorn and hot chocolate. Open the box, and watch the movie together. Instant Christmas satisfaction!
While I was researching, I found an Icelandic tradition that was similar, except instead of a movie, it was a book. Everyone gets a book on Christmas Eve, and it’s an early night for everyone, reading, eating chocolate, and getting plenty of sleep for a big Christmas Day!
Special Ornaments Collection
Start a collection of special ornaments for the Christmas tree. Each Christmas decorate the tree as a family, and as you unpack each ornament, share the special story or memory that relates to it. You could also start a collection for your kids as well. Then, when they get married or buy their own home, gift the entire collection to them so they can continue the tradition with their own families.
The tradition of food is a wonderful one. Whether it’s pancakes for breakfast or cold pork and salads on Boxing Day, food will certainly bring everyone together. So, use your grandmother’s ‘good china’, share your family’s favourite traditional meal and toast another year together.
Create Gifts of Memories
This year for Christmas, give the gift of experiences to your family. Try vouchers for workshops, tickets for concerts or art lessons. Better yet, choose things you can do together as a family. Create scrapbooks of photos from these special experiences throughout the year and the next year, give the photos to your loved ones. It’s a great way to create lasting memories.
Remember Loved Ones
Christmas is the perfect time to remember our loved ones that have passed. Some families light candles on Christmas Eve. Others look at photos and tell special stories. Talking about family members that are no longer with us strengthens us as a family unit and reminds us who we are.
Walk Around the Neighbourhood
Take a walk around the neighbourhood to look at the Christmas lights and decorations. Pick out your favourites and just spend time together, chatting.
Build a Gingerbread House
Build and decorate a gingerbread house together. It might not be perfect or pretty but everyone will love doing it. Then eat it on Christmas Day!
Sleep Under the Christmas Tree
Drag the mattresses out and sleep under the tree one night. Leave the Christmas lights on. The kids will love this.
Perform Small Acts of Service
Try to do something kind for someone, perhaps a neighbour or an elderly relative who might be alone at this time of year. Drop off treats or go caroling to their home. The idea of singing to someone sounds cheesy and kind of weird, but it is surprisingly fun and bring so much joy to someone who may not get a lot of attention most of the time.
Embrace Christmas Together
Sing carols, decorate the house, bake cookies, read A Christmas Carol and, of course, leave milk and cookies out for Santa and carrots for his reindeer.
Whatever traditions you choose to embrace as a family are less important than the fact that you do embrace them. Spending time together is the most precious gift we can give our family at this time of year. So, pick some traditions that your family will be sure to love, and have a magical, wondrous Christmas.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.
About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.