No matter what shape or form they take, or how they came to be, families are special. I believe they are a primary place where God intends for us to experience His joy in our lives. In a culture where there are so many breakdowns to the family unit, having Family Traditions is one helpful way to foster unity, create special memories and build legacy.
Sometimes traditions begin on purpose, and sometimes they grow almost by happenstance. Some are tied to holidays, and some to the regular days, to create interest or to instil values. The traditions we have created in our family have been a source of joy for us as our crew has grown and changed.
12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days
I’ve collected together 12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days that I hope you find inspiring for your family. You can use these ideas just as they are, or perhaps your family will put its own spin on some of them. Share in the comments below if you try out any of these ideas!
My husband and I both had the flu on the day our first son celebrated his first birthday. Though we needed to postpone his birthday gathering by a day or two, we still wanted to acknowledge the milestone on the actual day, though we didn’t have the energy to do very much.
A few things were certain: the baby didn’t know it was his birthday, he wasn’t sick, and he still needed to eat! In true super-dad form, my husband Scott took one for the team and went to make breakfast. He wanted to make something special, and relatively new for our little guy, and decided upon pancakes. Long before ‘pancake art’ was even a thing, Scott made one pancake in the simple shape of a “1”, which he then served the baby, snapping a picture to keep for posterity. That was about the extent of the celebrations for that day.
When the next birthday rolled around, Scott remembered the previous year and poured a “2” with his pancake batter. Voilà, the first of our Family Traditions was born! As crazy as it seems, just this week, our oldest son will receive his 18th birthday pancake from his dad! In addition, we have served 28 others, between our second son and our daughter. It has become an enjoyable thing for each of them to look forward to on their big day. And, by virtue of our pictures heading out on the internet, we have seen the Birthday Pancake tradition spread from family to family over the years.
*If you have adopted the tradition of making birthday pancakes somewhere along the way, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Sometimes Family Traditions might be carried out in smaller groups (like Mother/Daughter, or Father/Son traditions). One tradition my daughter and I maintained with good regularity for many years was having Tea Parties.
When Grace was very small, I got the book Just Mom and Me Having Tea: A Fun Bible Study for Mothers and Daughters. It suited her perfectly, and gave us activities, craft ideas and launchpads for spiritual conversations while we had our tea parties. Our menu varied (rarely including tea!), and moved location almost every time (sometimes the dining room, other times a picnic on her bedroom floor). These times together were special, helping us to bond tightly. As she grew, our topics of conversation changed, and our activities modified to fit her stage of life, but our enjoyment of intentional time together never wanes.
I saw a beautiful story online recently about a 30+ year long Family Tradition born at Thanksgiving. This is not one that I’ve tried, but I love the idea enough to pass it along to you! If you know of other creative ideas for holding numerous family signatures like this one, please share in the comments below!
When our children were little, my father-in-law once mentioned his desire to someday have a quilt made out of their clothing. Tucking the idea away, I promptly began saving clothes for that very purpose. Later, I narrowed in to just jeans – the ones that hadn’t worn out completely, that is!
I specifically kept the ones with cute designs (sparkles, knit pockets, “Tonka” insignia etc.), saving for several years! When I had a few garbage bags full of sweet little jeans, I connected with a dear friend, Jessica, who has a sewing and quilting Etsy Shop to enlist her help. We needed 4 quilts, one for each set of grandparents, one for an aunt who cares for our children as if they were her own, and one for us. Jessica asked us to choose a heavy felt fabric that she could use for backing and for interspersing blocks, and then she went to work. That Christmas, the beautiful quilts made their way under several Christmas trees, and proved to be very meaningful gifts. They are heavy and warm, and full of fun and playful reminders of our kiddos as they were growing.
I have a sister-in-law whose personal mission in life has been to be The. Most. Fun. Aunt… EVER. For all eighteen years Scott & I have been parents, our children have been lavished in her love and hilarity. (Though we have always lived hours and hours apart, many a Saturday morning was spent by our little ones “playing hide-and-seek” with Auntie Jane over the phone.)
When the kiddos were very small, AJ began creating a Christmas hunt for each child every year. Before they could read, their clues were in the form of pictures hidden around the house. As their reading skills picked up, she moved to words, and then to word problems and puzzles. With advancement in technology, clues for finding their present came in the form of QR codes and video snippets. As our oldest grew, he began to assist in the creation of the hunts for the others, which now happen in the form of iMovies (sometimes a game show, cooking show, or music video.) These scavenger hunts quickly became the highlight of Christmas morning for our family, and continue to this day, creating fun for all of us, and lengthening our day’s celebration together.
Sun and Sand
When I was nine years old, my parents called a family meeting with my sister and me. They spoke with us about purchasing a small cottage near the ocean in Nova Scotia, Canada. Approximately two hours from our home, this would be our summer getaway. Since dear friends owned the next property over, our family had already visited this spot for several summers. It had become one of my favorite places to be. With the understanding that cottage ownership would shape what our vacationing lives would look like from this point forward, we came to the decision together to purchase the quaint 3 bedroom, 1 bath cottage. My tenth summer was our first summer as official cottagers on the Gulf Shore Road.
Thirty-three summers have passed; thirty three summers of beach-combing and barbecues, sandcastles and sunsets, kites and campfires, swimming and salty skin. Somehow the air is cleaner, food tastes fresher, and everything moves more slowly at the cottage.
In my fifteenth summer at the Gulf Shore, I dipped some new little toes into the Northumberland Strait; we had brought our baby boy to the Shore for the first time.
And things shifted in an incredible way when a new generation was introduced to our family spot.
We have brought our children to the cottage for eighteen summers, and we have made new memories (doing the same things we always do) with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Somehow time stands still, yet life grows richer at the cottage. In her helpful article about their tradition of Cousin Camp, Marcia Kemp Sterling writes about how the repetition of events even serves to build confidence in children.
We have been immensely privileged to have a family property like this one, but I don’t think cottage ownership is essential for consistent Summer and Sand memory making. If you have access to a lake or an ocean cabin to rent or borrow, maybe these 2o Best Beach Activities, or these 15 Awesome Sea Glass Crafts can help you to begin your own summer traditions.
There is a doorframe in our family summer cottage that bears numerous markings. Names and dates began crawling their way up the wood beam in 1985, the increasing sizes of one generation, and now another (which is rapidly overtaking their parents in height!) The doorpost is central in a significant family location. Having them together on the same doorframe has been a very special memory maker for grandparents, parents and grandchildren. If a wooden doorframe is not available to you, maybe you would like to begin measuring children and cousins on something like these, from 937 Designs.
One thing we all need to learn is how to communicate well; how to speak and how to listen to one another. Engaging in conversation is crucial to building trust, growing in maturity, and becoming well-rounded. I grew up in a family that values conversation, and saw the evening meal as an important gathering place where all members of the family could and should contribute to the conversation. Early on, Scott and I decided to prioritize in the same way, every evening meal Family Traditions for all being together, and all taking part in the conversation. Our table has hosted many guests, helping to round out the dinner conversations even more.
When the children were small, we often used a conversation starter we called Highlight/Lowlight. Going around the table, each of us would take a turn sharing something especially good from the day. Regardless what it was, if it was important to a family member to recall it to us all, then it was important enough for all of us to celebrate. We also each shared a low point in the day (a mistake we made, a place our feelings got hurt, or an injustice we witnessed.) This was to instil openness into our kiddos’ conversation, and to help them to learn to speak vulnerably to each other when emotions were not supercharged.
Dear friends of ours had a tradition of assigning a Dinnertime Conversation Host. Whether that person was big or small, their task throughout the meal was threefold. They helped guide the conversation (by initiating topics and asking questions of the other diners), sensed the lulls or awkward pauses and helped move past them, and ensured no one was being left out of the conversation. I believe this Family Tradition helped each family member to increase their breadth of engagement with a variety of topics, developed leadership skills, and instilled empathy. Another way you might introduce a good variety of conversation topics is through a collection of conversation starters like these, thanks to Sarah at MyJoyFilledLife.com
Creating and continuing conversations is a life skill that your children would do well to learn at an early age. For other awesome life still lessons, check out Skill Trek!
Speaking of mealtimes, who doesn’t like to dress up all fancy on occasion? And who among us couldn’t benefit from learning the rules of dinner etiquette? Fancy Fridays (or another similar title) just might be Family Traditions that could be both fun and educational, even for little ones.
Whether you are empty nesters, newlyweds, a cohort of room-mates or a family of littles, designating a regular weekly night to go all out with dishes, and attire, and fancy recipes will create lasting memories. It will also help people become better acquainted with linen napkin and the salad fork! Children can help with meal-planning, making place cards for each guest, rolling or folding napkins, and learning to follow a table setting diagram. And what better place to learn how to properly care for fancy dish-ware, so moms and dads have less to worry about when taking the family to eat in public. Kiddos benefit from eating on delicate plates, and parents learn that a dish is just a dish. Accidents happen, and life can still roll joyfully on.
But sometimes we don’t want to be fancy. We want to eat in our PJs or our sweats, or keep yoga pants on for three days in a row. That’s okay! These days are better suited for Family Competition days. A little healthy competition is great for your family no matter the stage, teaching discipline, courage, and the art of losing. We don’t all need the trophy.
Game Nights are perfect ways to be competitive together, and they can always be tailored to your particular family dynamic. We once divided into teams for a Family Cook Off: one team handled the appetizer, one the main course, and one the dessert. While we ate, each team had to describe their process of choosing their menu item, and how it all came together. Voting happened after the meal. It was a fun way to get everyone active and creative in the kitchen, and made for a jovial atmosphere as we ate together. Sharla, at thechaosandtheclutter.com, shares some other great ideas for a Family Competition.
Our kids were recently introduced to “Letter Day”, which is basically a fun attempt to create an interesting day without a lot of prior planning. Together, they selected one letter from the alphabet (they picked H), and then they had to plan the day’s activities all to start with that letter.
They went to stores and restaurants beginning with the letter H, purchased items and meals that began with H, and watched a movie beginning with H as well. Brainstorming is almost as much fun as executing the plan! Below are some potential Letter Day ideas to start your Family Traditions.
Activities: Art, Acrobatics, Air Hockey, Astronomy, Aqua Aerobics, Airsoft Range
Movies: Avengers, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, Amazing Spiderman, Alice in Wonderland.
Obviously, the sky is the limit with twenty-six letters and a bit of imagination! How would you do a “Letter Day”? Reply in the comments below!
Advent is a season of expectation during the four weeks prior to Christmas. We recognize that our lives desperately need Jesus. The time period recalls the coming of Christ, and looking ahead to His return. In our current North American culture, many of us have not learned about the significance of the season of Advent. The home is the perfect place for establishing seasonal Family Traditions. We have Advent Candles that we light every evening at suppertime (one candle each night for the first week, two nightly during the second week etc. We light the central Christ candle on Christmas Eve.) This year, I found some wonderful readings from Kaylene Yoder that co-ordinate with the names of Jesus. An unique name for each day combines with an Old and New Testament reading. These made an awesome springboard for conversation around the dinner table throughout Advent.
The Christmas Nail
Several years ago, my sister (the queen of the perfect gift) gave us a beautiful, and powerful Christmas ornament. The Christmas Nail reminds families of the centrality of Jesus in the Christmas celebration. The nail hangs on the interior of the tree, out of sight, on a strong branch. Hidden from guests, it is the foundational ornament, known to the family as a special reminder throughout the season that the Christmas tree foreshadows the rugged tree where victory was won. Year after year, our family benefits from this Family Tradition. We focus ourselves on the reality of Emmanuel, and His miraculous, central role in our lives.
I hope you have enjoyed this collection of 12 Family Traditions for Holidays or Regular Days. Though I don’t have affiliate relationships with any of the sites linked above, I think the ideas are awesome. I want you to know about them too! I believe in making strong families, and that God intends for us to experience joy in our homes. No matter what season of family life you find yourselves in, I pray some of these ideas will be helpful for you. If you try out any of these ideas, or if you modify them to suit your context, I would love to hear from you.
Let the joy loose!