Every year for the holidays, my mother-in-law and her sister unearth their enormous cooking pots (the kind that can easily fit a kid) in time to cook the Christmas tamales. With the help of roughly three to four people per shift (because the event is an all-day marathon), masa is made, beef and vegetable filling is cooked, and some custom, not-so-spicy ones are even set aside for me. So that on Christmas day, family members drop by and eat platefuls of tamales, again an all-day event. And this observance happens every December; a Christmas tradition years in the making.
The wonderful thing about family traditions is that they often happen organically and may even occur without us knowing it. For instance, my husband and I often reserve Saturday mornings for more complicated breakfasts, and while we rotated scrambled eggs, hash browns and the occasional Dutch baby, we found ourselves often cooking a family favorite—pancakes. From there, we began what my four-year-old now refers to as Pancake Saturdays.
Or take the daily rituals we often refer to as routines: the reading of four books before bedtime, the communal act of gathering around the dinner table. Often overlooked, even these simple acts add to a tradition that kids eventually grow up to remember fondly.
And of course the holidays. Chock-full of rich traditions, from decades-old to newly formed, the holidays can often be an opportune time to remember your own festivities or adapt and create your own.
Creating family traditions can be as simple as repeating enjoyable moments, or during designated times and seasons. Look to your family for inspiration. I can suggest dressing up in matching pajamas for Christmas Day, a wonderful idea to many, but not to those who might find it unnecessary. Similarly, going to the beach as part of your summer bucket list works fine for the likes of me who live near the ocean, but not so much to those away from the coasts.
A potential trap to fall on parents wanting to create family traditions is piling on too many. Particularly during the holidays, we hear so many amazing ideas that families are doing: watching Christmas movies on the weekends, baking Santa’s cookies (if you celebrate Santa), ice skating, visiting the local senior living homes… yet too many activities—even if in the name of creating traditions—can easily wear a family out.
And it’s perfectly fine to try new traditions only to find that they were instead a one-time deal. For instance, a few years ago, we bought Christmas treats and passed them out to several neighbors in our building. The following year, for some reason on another (probably because I was too exhausted with my twin pregnancy to do much of anything), we balked on the idea the second time around.
Still, if you’re looking to kick-start a few holiday traditions, consider a few here that I’ve celebrated with my own family and extended relatives.
Here’s how to create holiday traditions your kids will love:
Bake a treat or cook a meal reserved for Christmas. Similar to my mother-in-law’s tamales, my own mom has been known to cook a Filipino dessert guinataan for the holidays. And like the tamales, this also involves an enormous cooking pot, requires a bit of effort, and can feed numerous people. Some other favorites include fudge, eggnog, gingerbread house, apple pie and apple cider.
Purchase or make an ornament for each child each year. After several years, your Christmas tree will resemble a treasure trove of memories.
Pick and decorate a Christmas tree. Even when my husband, first born son and I lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, we still made plans to buy a small-sized tree to take home and decorate. We had to get creative with our tree and set it atop a side table so that the little guy wouldn’t keep snatching the ornaments!
Make a gingerbread house. A rainy day made for the perfect excuse to bring out the kit I had bought to make with my son. This gingerbread house kit came complete with the gingerbread house pieces, ready-made frosting (just need to put it in a piping bag) and candy.
Attend your city’s tree-lighting ceremony. Our city hosts an annual event gathering residents to light the official city tree. Check your city’s website for any local events, from tree-lighting to holiday-themed shows.
Knock on neighbors’ doors and pass out holiday treats. We stuck to wrapped candy tied in holiday bags, but you can add a personal touch by baking your own treats. Even the most cantankerous of neighbors lit up when we handed them a holiday bag.
Borrow holiday-related books from the library to read at home. We haven’t done this all too often, so this year I plan to borrow several holiday-themed children’s books to read throughout the season.
Christmas music! I’m amazed I know probably 95% of the words to Christmas music. Goes to show how far back music can go, and how timeless many of them are.
String popcorn for your own tree trimmings. One fond memory I had was cooking popcorn with my family, threading some string through it and wrapping the long garland around our Christmas tree.
Play “Guess Your Secret Santa.” When passing around your Secret Santa gifts, have each person gives clues or even impersonate the person they have given a gift to. Everyone else can guess who the recipient is.
What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Do you still continue some from your own childhood?
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