Christmas time is when most families follow some type of tradition. However, ‘traditions’ are increasingly viewed with skepticism by the mainstream media. The nuclear family is often portrayed simply as a ‘campaign of indoctrination by big business and religious conservatives’ and any sociology textbook will describe the traditional family as merely an ‘idealized concept’. Yet family is at the core of positive educational outcomes, the formation of a strong sense of identity, and the building of character. Family traditions help to bond family members; they provide the necessary glue to help us stick together, even during challenging times.
1.What were some of the effects of giving up our family traditions, especially during the pandemic?
The pandemic has caused a suspension of traditions and celebration of milestone moments. A study conducted by SickKids in Toronto at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, which monitored youth aged 2 to 18 years, found that 70% of school-aged children reported mental health deterioration including depression and anxiety. As the pandemic dragged on, not only did children miss milestone events like birthday celebrations, graduations etc, but also traditional family events like Thanksgiving dinners, Easter and Christmas celebrations, some of the only events during the year when extended family gathers. Gatherings with extended family, although they certainly come with their challenges of personality mismatches, remind us that we are connected, are part of a larger unit, and are not alone in this world. These experiences are essential to children’s sense of identity formation. Psychologist Sarah Duke observed, “The children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they are faced with challenges”. The pandemic paused family events and placed them into the ‘optional’ category. It is important that we return to forming continued bonds both within our family and with extended family.
2. What are some specific benefits of keeping family traditions?
Family traditions, especially those passed down from generations, provide a strong sense of identity and build trust. They also are the main vehicle to pass on our cultural, social, and religious heritage. Family traditions can serve to counter the mainstream narrative that ‘family can be ‘whatever‘, that family could be ‘you and your cup of coffee and cat’ if you so choose. Family traditions are what provide consistency in an fast-paced, ever-changing world with confusing messaging.
Children who are part of families with strong bonds perform better educationally: “Children’s performance and conduct in school are affected by the intellectual stimulation, emotional support, guidance, and discipline they receive at home”. Research has demonstrated that children are “more likely to get the attention, affection, and direction needed to thrive educationally when they come from a family headed by their own married parents”.
3. We all lead busy lives – what are your suggestions for parents to help establish some family traditions?
Anything that gets everyone away from their devices into real life person-to-person interaction is worth gold.
Spend time together as family in activities and during meals. During the Christmas holidays, parents have a perfect opportunity to build traditions:
- baking cookies
- decorating the tree
- attending religious services
- writing cards
- going on a neighbourhood walk to see the Christmas lights
- reading Christmas stories (or any other stories) aloud
- watch a movie – but make it an event by preparing popcorn or hot chocolate together (great skills for kids to learn)
- listening to Christmas stories (perfect if you have around 20 min)
- try comic storyteller Stuart Mclean’s Christmas stories – we have been listening to these for years.
- Our favorites are Dave cooks the turkey (this is an absolute classic),
- Polly Anderson’s Christmas party
- Rashida, Amir, and the great gift-giving.
- Christmas at the Turlingtons
- A Christmas Carol read-aloud reaches back to importance of this age-old story in reminding us of repentance and forgiveness. I have a free download of this version as a pdf file here. The retelling takes about 40 min. and is a family favourite of ours. The most important recommendation from my son for this tradition is to “make the least sentimental person read the last line” He always chides me for tearing up at Tiny Tim’s words.