Creating Joyful and Meaningful Traditions Over the Christmas Season
Christmas is a wonderful, but very busy time of year. There is so much to do. In this rush, we often lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.
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.
Christmas is a brilliant time to institute traditions or reinvigorate those that might have lapsed over the years.
I come from an Indonesian-Chinese upbringing, whilst my husband comes from a Basque upbringing.
Geographically and culturally, we could not be more different.
We have chosen to raise our kids in Australia (sadly, very far away from home for both of us) and consequently, Christmas is always a time when we reunite with both of our families. We typically split our time equally over both continents during our extended travels throughout the Christmas period.
While both families have brought such different joys and traditions to our kids’ lives, it has been interesting to observe how easily the kids fit in to both value-sets, which celebrate the same holiday in very different ways. Below are the reasons this works.
Tips to think about to add joy to your own family Christmas celebrations:
Consistency: Rituals bring meaning and rhythm. There are certain things that are always done at Christmas time. No one questions them because they are inclusive, fun, and part of the annual routine. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them. This could include making ornaments, setting up the tree, counting down on an advent calendar or attending a local Christmas market or fair. Both adults and kids alike love a rhythm because it sets expectations and inserts a constant in our busy routines.
Joy: There is a lot of pressure and expectation at this time of year. Scale back on things that don’t bring you joy. Replace them with things that do. Joy doesn’t always come through large events nor expensive means. Think about the smaller things like using your grandmother’s ‘good china’ at your special family gathering or giving the time to hand-make gifts for your friends. At Christmas-time, my husband’s entire extended family gathers in his grandmother’s little apartment to enjoy a breakfast of hot chocolate, Christmas cake and churros together. The space is bursting at the seams. Standing room only, I believe the sheer excited volume of conversation is a representation of everyone’s happiness in being together.
Slow down and enjoy time with the people that mean the most: Christmas is whatever you make it. In our family, Christmas is a festival about love, care and respect for each other. Too often, many of us are wound up by and wrapped up in the numerous Christmas social events that we agreed to. Dinners, charity drives, play dates or projects that must be done before Christmas. Seeing all this hustle and bustle around me has led me to search for ways to implement family time and a feeling of slow-ness to the holidays. Kids remember the experiences that evoke emotions, not the ones they are rushed through. Let them spend the time making Christmas goodies with Grandma without having to rush off to the next party or do Christmas craft without a specific time limit. Saying no, committing to fewer events and letting go of expectations is unbelievably freeing!
It’s all about the simple things: Although I have never been able to tackle one myself, a fond memory of spending Christmas in Spain is the 500g T-Bone steak! Everyone at the table gets their own to devour, and there is no turkey. Let the things that define your family be simple and even a little quirky. It’s the simple things that will set your family’s traditions apart.
Purpose: Don’t fall into the trap of doing things because others are doing the same. Find traditions that resonate with your family’s belief set and natural rhythm. The purpose behind a chosen tradition can be religious, joy, togetherness or simply because it’s a preservation of family institutions. Whatever you choose, be sure they add to (rather than detract from) your happiness at a potentially stressful time.
There is preparation and thought involved: Traditions and rituals are usually well thought through and planned. They are never rushed. This further builds on the sense of purpose, and on the importance of the tradition. My mom’s fruitcake has always been part of our Christmas traditions. She starts the process weeks prior to make sure it tastes just right. We all get a say in how much brandy goes in. In my own home, the kids really enjoy writing their letters to Santa and take weeks to think about what they are going to write. Posting the letters is an event too, because their wishes are finalised and the magic starts to happen.
Whilst these are a few of the ways we have embedded our families’ traditions in our kids, it is so important for every family to develop their own ways of celebrating life and its events.
Some things will work better than others. Make it your own as you go.
Christmas is a wonderful time to create a private family-only space amongst all the hustle and bustle. The important thing is to be courageous, creative and to draw on all of your skills to bring the richness of your life to your celebrations. Embrace your own ideas and values, art, music, poetry, stories, art, craft, love of nature, practical activities, adventures, creative cooking, fun and wonder.
From my family to yours, I wish you lots of fun making Christmas memories together!