Holiday Rituals – Old ones? New ones?

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD, Positive Discipline Lead Trainer
Our community is made up of all sorts of different kinds of families from many different cultures and traditions. There are lots of holidays and special events in this season when the nights are longer and the days are shorter. Your family may have special traditions or rituals that you and your children enjoy – or not!
Rituals are like seasonal routines. They can offer structure and security in times of increased chaos. Being part of a family with healthy rituals can give children a sense of belonging, comfort and predictability. Rituals also connect us to our culture and traditions – we become part of something bigger. However, when rituals become too rigid they become a source of stress. Now is the time to ask, “Are our family’s rituals a good fit for us?”
Fine tuning your family rituals:
Involve your family. Ask your family what makes your holiday special to them? What are the things that your family does together that help them know that this is a special time of year. Maybe it is a visit with special people, or lighting candles or traditional meals or religious practices, or a regular event that the family attends together.
Think long term. What mood do you want to create for your family for this season? Do you want a sense of connection? Reverence? Playfulness? Gratitude? Generosity? What kinds of things can you do together that might invite the mood that you would like bring to your holiday?
Some flexibility. If you already have rituals that you have “inherited” but find that they are creating stress instead of the mood you want, work with the others involved to see if you shift things a little bit to maintain the parts of the ritual that invite connection and the mood you want – but also create less stress. Sometimes families “endure” rituals because no one has the courage to ask the group to think about what they really want.
Repetition. A ritual only becomes a ritual with repetition – but they don’t start out that way. If your family decides to try something new, spend a little time later reflecting on whether it worked. Do you want to try it again next year? Do you want to change a little bit of it to make it work better for everyone?
Creativity and simplicity. When you are thinking of new rituals for your family be creative and be willing to go exploring – but keep the mood in mind. Rituals do not need to be big productions. Sometimes simple is better. Do you want to bake cookies and deliver them to neighbors? Have a family read-aloud night? A neighborhood sing-a-long? Work at or give to a food bank? What kind of things can your family think of that would be fun, honor the holiday, and invite you all to feel connected to each other and/or the bigger world?
Share. Feel free to share your favorite family holiday ritual or activity on our blog. Others can learn from you.

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