“Wholesome family recreation is important in building successful families. By creating traditions that bring the family closer to God, parents can strengthen the bond between family members, fortify commitment to religion, and teach important principles they want their children to understand and live by.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)
“When you recall your favorite memories of childhood, they probably center around family rituals such as bedtime, and annual vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the weekly Sabbath meal. Your worst memories might also be connected with these family rituals” (Doherty 10).
How do we make our rituals and traditions binding instead of boring? Fun instead of frustrating? Prophets and researchers have indicated that traditions are important, even necessary for creating family bonds. Are all traditions equal? How can you create traditions that promote family unity as well as family fun?
Dr. William Doherty says that family rituals result in four important benefits for the family. Considering these items can help you in creating new traditions or in evaluating your existing ones (11).
Knowing that Dad will read the children to sleep every night makes bedtime something they can look forward to and savor. If bedtime stories have to be renegotiated every night—if there is no predictability—then the ritual or tradition loses its power.
The bedtime ritual may be the primary one-on-one time shared between a father and his child. Similarly, an annual Christmas party might be the main opportunity extended family members have to catch up with what is going on in each other’s lives. Family rituals and traditions should give us chances to connect.
Family traditions give members “a sense of who belongs to the family. You may know who your core family members are by who is invited to the Thanksgiving meal; including non-relatives in core family rituals makes them ‘family’ too. Families who take interesting vacations together acquire the self-image of a fun-loving family. They will say ‘We are campers’ or ‘We are hikers’” (author, 11). Consider for a moment what sense of identity may be created by your family’s traditions.
4. A Way to Enact Values
Traditions enable us to enact values that are important to us. “Religious rituals are a good example, as is a family volunteering together for community work, or ensuring that the children join in regular family visits to a grandparent in a nursing home, thereby teaching that it is important to honor and support this elderly family member” (11).
Many families create traditions based on LDS General Conference. Conference traditions often include special spiritual elements and can bring the family together in spiritual conversations. Making special breakfasts with everyone helping to cook is one popular activity, as is watching conference in a special location, or reviewing together the messages printed in the Ensign.
Discussing adult family members’ favorite childhood traditions might spark ideas for creating some new ones for a young family. For example, one family decided they’d wait to open Christmas stockings until Christmas evening after the mother told about the fun she had had as a child having something to look forward to throughout the day.
One family with Swedish ancestry learned from the Internet about a Santa Lucia tradition for opening the Christmas season. Finding cultural or ancestral stories or symbols that connect you to your heritage can be a meaningful source for new traditions.
Meaningful spiritual traditions could be as simple as having a one-on-one parent/child interview each fast Sunday. Looking for ways to incorporate the spiritual into existing traditions can be fulfilling as well: for example, reading scriptures together when the family returns from viewing displays of Christmas lights.
A young family might enjoy having all of the siblings exchange gifts, but as members grow, marry, and become parents, drawing family names might be more affordable and almost as much fun. Be willing to modify or change traditions that no longer fit.
Did something spontaneous or accidental turn out to be fun? Keep it! For example, at a family Christmas party where the children were given balloons, the three-year-old was devastated when she accidentally let hers go and delighted when she found that Santa had returned it on Christmas morning. Now in that family every year each child releases a balloon with a small note to Santa, and on Christmas morning Santa returns the balloons with a return note for each child.
The more that family members are involved in planning and carrying out the ritual, the more meaningful it is likely to be” (Doherty 199). One mother has all the children work with her on planning their birthday parties.. They’ll spend a couple of weeks in advance making decorations and arranging the event.
During a family home evening, read the Proclamation and evaluate your family’s current traditions. Are the traditions working consistently with the stated goals? Parents ultimately get to decide what stays and what goes, but they are sometimes surprised by what the children do and do not like—and why.
A mother wrote a poem about the way she learned to knot thread, which illustrates the power of even the simplest family traditions:
"My little daughter, Mother taught,
to twist the thread and tie the knot.
Swedish immigrant years ago,
taught her granddaughter to knot and sew.
Five generations linked and wed,
by a simple knot on the end of a thread."
Family traditions don’t have to be elaborate to create connections. Even the simplest events that are predictable, reflect your family’s values, and offer a sense of identity can bind your family for generations.
Doherty, William. The Intentional Family. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
Smith, Veloy. “My little daughter.” Unpublished poem.