Why Don’t We Have Any Family Traditions?

Family-Traditions

I love January.  The holidays are behind us, and it’s all fresh starts and empty calendars and, of course, resolutions.  And if there’s anything I love more than January, it’s a good resolution.

I have to say, I just don’t understand people who don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I think it’s really important to sit back and take stock of where you are in your life and how you operate in the world, and what it is you’d like to do differently.  It’s about self-reflection and self-awareness and setting goals, so that we’re not just passively moving through life, but actively creating lives for ourselves.  I love to ask people what their New Year’s Resolutions are; it’s always so interesting to hear what’s on people’s minds.

I have lots of resolutions this year, but the one that’s the most important to me came up in December, when I was helping my son with a school project. It was a poem called I am From, and he had to write about, well, what he’s from.  So, for example, mine could be: I am from down the shore and summers at camp.  I am from saying what you mean, dogs are always welcome, and crossword puzzles on Sunday mornings.  That kind of a thing.  It was cute.

The instructions said that he was supposed to break the poem up into different themes, like vacations or trips, hobbies and interests, and family traditions.  Easy.  No problem. Except, when we got to family traditions, my son couldn’t think of any.  Which kind of broke my heart, and it’s possible that I might have yelled at him a little bit.  Okay, fine.  I yelled at him.

But I only yelled at him because it made me so upset that he couldn’t think of any family traditions.   I mean, really?  None?  Not a single tradition?  What about how we have Thanksgiving at our house every year?  What about how we decorate the house for Halloween and carve pumpkins and roast the seeds afterwards?  What about the big Hanukkah gift exchange with the whole family?  What about playing dominoes together during Winter Break?   I mean, I kill myself to make sure we spend good, quality family time together, and he can’t think of a single tradition?

But when I really thought about it, I realized that none of those things actually are family traditions.  Well, I guess they are in that we do them every year, but they’re not meaningful, really.  There’s nothing on that list that my kids are going to feel compelled to do with their kids one day, nothing they’re going to feel they must pass down to the next generation.  And that makes me really sad.  Because traditions are important.  They make us feel grounded, and safe, and a part of something larger than ourselves.  They make us feel connected to the past and the future all at the same time.

So this year, my number one New Year’s Resolution is to start creating meaningful traditions for my family.  I’ve been polling some friends and doing some research, and so far I’ve gotten some interesting ideas.

One friend writes a letter to her kids each year on their birthdays, and plans to give them all of the letters when they turn eighteen.  Another idea is to plant a tree each year for each child.  And another is to choose a book and read it together at the same time of year, every year.

I don’t think all traditions have to be so formal – some of my favorite traditions are Friday night movie nights or family game nights.  But I really do like the idea of something concrete – a recipe we make together, a book we read together,  – that one day my kids will be able to look at and touch and remember cooking or reading with me and my husband.  This is how you create memories and family folklore. This is how ancestors get to live on forever.

Next December, I’m going to have my son sit down and write that poem again, and hopefully, he’ll be able to say he’s from some new family traditions.  And who knows? Maybe that will become a new tradition all by itself.

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