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Differing Family Traditions at the Holiday Season

Traditions offer family members an opportunity to feel included, share values and connect with each other in meaningful ways. While many link the holiday season with family traditions involving a celebration, celebration is only one type of tradition. The other major types are traditions of connection and traditions of community.

Regardless of type, family traditions that last and have personal meaning for family members are the ones that develop the strongest relationships. Such traditions during the holiday season may range from singing carols to neighbors to making holiday cookies together in the kitchen. Christmas Crackers

Family traditions of connection are centered on regular, consistent activities such as morning time and bedtime, meals, outings and vacations. Birthdays, family reunions and holidays tend to comprise the traditions of celebration. Traditions of community can include weddings, funerals, other religious events, and community gatherings ranging from block parties to football games.

A key benefit of family traditions is predictability, that sense of regularity and order that families need, especially children. Children look forward to annual holiday traditions such as making Christmas ornaments or gathering with family members for a meal. Another benefit of family traditions is identity, the sense of belonging that makes families feel unique. What are the unique traditions that you practice during the holiday season?

Building and maintaining traditions has always been based on family decisions, but now that there are so many different types of families, communication is more important than ever before. Single-parent families, blended families, multi-generational families, families with different ethnic backgrounds – each type will need to discuss and select those traditions that work best for them in their specific circumstances. The same is true for families experiencing economic stress or a family crisis such as divorce.

It's important for families to recognize that traditions vary widely and often change over time. Sometimes, a little bit of change in family traditions is not a bad thing. At different times, families need to assess their situation and identify those traditions that can they can reasonably maintain, along with the traditions they may need to modify or abandon.

Another decision families need to make regarding traditions is based on this question: Old or new? Answering this question forces family members to determine whether a tradition is serving them in a positive way or whether they are serving the tradition.

Many families have old or established traditions that they would like to continue, but in order to involve younger generations in a meaningful way, the older family members may need to find ways to teach the value of these traditions. At the same time, members of the older generations should also recognize that young families need a chance to begin their own family traditions, and this may require restraint on the part of those who want to make sure certain family traditions carry on.

The best formula for working out family traditions involves a maximum amount of discussion and understanding and a minimum of pressure, guilt or other forms of negativity. Holiday traditions may differ across families but can all serve a useful purpose in creating a sense of belonging, meaning or celebration.

- Sean Brotherson, Extension Family Science Specialist, North Dakota State University, (701) 231-6143,

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