Holiday traditions: something old, something new - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Holiday traditions: something old, something new

Updated: Nov 1, 2010 12:34 PM EDT
©iStockphoto.com/Sean Locke ©iStockphoto.com/Sean Locke

By Bryan Coffey

In these complex modern times, a sense of cultural identity and heritage can fade as cultures and ethnicities mingle and Old World notions of religion succumb to secular life and individual spirituality. Even so,  "Tradition!", Tevye's defiant cry from "Fiddler on the Roof," remains an important way for people to establish that identity and create a connection to their heritage.  But as older, cultural traditions get left behind, familial traditions can fill the void and thrive in our modern, melting pot culture of America. 

Establishing family traditions is a great way to create a sense of togetherness, family harmony and family identity that can carry through from generation to generation.  And the winter holiday season, encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, is an ideal time of year to revive, combine or create those family traditions in your household.  Here are some ideas for inventing some of your own family traditions.

Make New Traditions

Families these days are more varied in their make-ups than in the past. Blends of cultures or religions, families split by divorce, or merged because of remarriage can make standard holiday traditions problematic.  Making new traditions is the way to go.

According to the editors at Tango Magazine, a New York based lifestyle magazine focused on love, family and relationships, couples can learn about and respect their cultural differences and create lasting traditions unique to their family by merging elements from both partners' pasts.  In situations of divorce and remarriage, creating new traditions is very important because it may be too painful or awkward to carry on the traditions of past relationships. 

Blend and Share

Compromise is also a big part of forming new traditions. 

I come from Midwestern stock but was raised in New England.  My wife has Southern roots, but was raised in Utah.  In my family we carry on my mother's stuffing recipe at Thanksgiving and my grandmother's cookie recipes at Christmas.  My wife's side is represented with her mother's crescent rolls and Mormon casserole dishes.  We also try to inject something new into that mix to give our children things to look forward to and carry on later in their lives.

Give to Charity

Regardless of what religion your family practices (or doesn't practice), the holiday season is a wonderful time for charity and giving. 

According to Dr. Vicki Panaccione, a child-clinical psychologist, "Giving is a fabulous lesson to instill in children.  What better way to teach charity than making it a family tradition?"   Find a charitable organization you can donate to or volunteer for, or find your own way to give to those less fortunate.

Involve the Whole Family

Another important part of making new holiday traditions is to include the entire family, especially children. 

Valerie Connelly, author of Arthur, the Christmas Elf, suggests that children and adults work together to make holiday decorations or cards to give out to neighbors, friends or anywhere in the community.  Just make sure that everyone gets to participate, no one's work is judged better or worse than others,' and that the project can be completed in about a half hour.

Celebrate in the Kitchen

Food is a big part of every holiday and there are well-known (and worn) food traditions for each one.  Why not try something different in your family?  Panaccione recommends picking a recipe that will be included every year in a specific holiday meal or including dishes from all the cultures and histories within the family.

Borrow from Other Cultures

You could also create a patchwork from foreign cultures outside of your own ancestries.

Debbie Mandel, author of Changing Habits and Turn On Your Inner Light, recommends borrowing from seasonal practices in other cultures and working them into your own family holiday rituals.

Traditions guide us through the future by reminding us of our past and common heritage.  But traditions don't have to be rigid, unbending practices that we stick to no matter the circumstances. 

The point of holiday traditions is to bring people together, promote values that we share, and create a sense of who we are and where we belong.  Taking an active role in deciding what those traditions will be will help bring your family together and build memories you'll cherish for years to come.

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