Keeping Simple Family Traditions
Growing up, I can remember how every fall we would pick the sunniest day and load up in the family Subaru Brat. From our house we would head out into eastern upstate New York and find the curvy, dirt roads to search out the vast expanses of forest amongst the foothills of the Catskill mountains. We all loved to see the cornucopia of vibrant colors in the turning leaves that happened each autumn when the weather turned cool. We’d drive around for hours just soaking in the gorgeous views that we often overlooked and took for granted in the green months of summer, or the barren dreariness of the long winters. Truth be told, the tradition pre-dated either my brother and I, and it no doubt continues in our absence created by our adulthood. I live far away from those foothills now, and the turning of the leaves in my new state lacks the vivid hues of my homeland woods. So, for me at least, that family tradition has passed into legend that my own boys can’t seem to even fathom the reasoning behind, our own woods changing colors in much less dramatic fashion. In it’s place though has sprung a host of other traditions; some I brought to my own family with me from my youth, some are just the natural result of mankind’s tendency to repeat the things that have the most meaning to us.
Family traditions are a wonderful way to build the type of memories that our children will cherish into adulthood, and carry with them as they raise their own families. They’re also a way for families to bond, share common values, and create a shared identity unique just to themselves. While it’s true that your annual super bowl party could be considered a “tradition”, you may find that the best ones are typically the type that the entire family shares the same enthusiasm for, and participation in. You might be familiar with holiday traditions, which is of course a great starting point. But if you really want to set your family ritual apart, there’s a bunch of other great ideas that are good for any time of the year. Surely there is no “wrong” way to start your own family traditions, but if you’re having trouble deciding on some, or maybe you weren’t raised with many of your own and so you’re less familiar with them, we’ve got a beginner’s guide to family traditions that might help get you started.
Family Game Night
Usually reserved for rainy days or camping trips, family game night is a dying tradition, with each passing generation showing less and less interest. Now days, classics like “Jenga” and “Chutes and Ladders” are being replaced by slightly more stimulating forms of entertainment. Which is a shame, since games of chance like those that involve rolling dice allow everyone in the family a fair chance at basking in the glory of the winner’s circle. Just avoid the household meltdowns that anyone familiar with Monopoly knows all to well.
Family Book Club
Not only a great way to encourage non-compulsory reading in your children, family book clubs offer a great way to plant deep, shared memories in your tribe. Books have a way of burying themselves deep into the subconscious to be fondly recalled without notice like the catching of a familiar scent from your childhood. It can be as simple as selecting an age-appropriate book that your entire family will enjoy and then setting aside some time each month to review what everyone enjoyed (or maybe didn’t enjoy) about the story. Do you have little ones that are maybe just starting out reading? No problem, by reading stories with some depth to your children at an early age they will grow to appreciate the potential that the written word possesses, and when the day comes that they tackle the family book of the quarter on their own, it will be in an encouraging and helpful environment.
When we think of time capsules, we typically think of a one-time ordeal. While that’s certainly one way to do it, there’s another method that your family will get a kick out of. To do annual time capsules, each family member can select something that they have received or purchased, made, found, or even learned over the last year and place it into a family time capsule to be buried around the same time each year. You can have a scrap book full of each year’s maps of where the capsules are built. Now, fast forward a while and the kids are grown and starting families of their own. Picture each Thanksgiving or Labor Day the family getting together and a new tradition forming of unearthing one capsule each year to reminisce about the things that were important years ago that helped shape both the family identity and each family members own identity.
If you’re a serial subscriber to this blog, you may recall an entry a while back that detailed my own camping experiences growing up. I still use some of the skills that I learned on those trips from time to time in my daily life, (though thankfully I don’t find much occasion to flip over rocks for crayfish all too often). Camping can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Stop by or call a campground close to your house and find one that has cabins on site. These drastically reduce not only the amount of equipment that you might need, (equipment that you may be unfamiliar with, or have little use for during the rest of the year), and offer a pretty decent chance of survival even if you discover that you undersold the homework aspect of roughing it. Camping is sort of a force-multiplier when it comes to traditions. If you make a weekend in the woods an annual family tradition you may discover that you make even more traditions while out in the woods; I don’t make s’mores unless I’m camping, they just don’t taste the same.
Engage in Community Projects
As spring time makes its welcome presence each year, families begin to emerge from the relative warmth and safety of their houses and reintroduce themselves to the many outdoor opportunities that their communities offer. What better time to take a Saturday each spring and spend it as a family working on a community improvement project? You don’t need to go too crazy with it, it can be as simple as picking up litter in the local park or planting flowers in some neglected corner of the community playground. More than just making your neighborhood a little more cheerful, it also teaches your children to be good stewards of their local community.
Have Family Talent Shows
Family talent shows are a fun way to not only bring the family together, but also discover some unknown performance abilities within your household. You can make these nights as simple or elaborate as you want. They’re also a great way to show our children that no matter what the age, everyone has a hidden talent that is worth sharing with the world.
Do Date Nights with the Kids
It’s important that children receive some one-on-one time with mom and dad. Setting aside a night each month and taking turns taking the kids out on date night, (or any other name you want to give it for same-sex parental outings), lets you spend some much needed quality time with you child. Dinner and a movie can be as simple as you want it, just try and avoid any “one-upmanship” between parents.
Throw Season Changing Parties
When seasons change, our lives often change with them. Winter drives us indoors and we put away out man-stay outdoor play equipment, spring brings with it the chores of getting ready for nicer weather, summer marks the end of yet another school year, you get the idea. Pick a day early on in each season and set aside an evening or afternoon to celebrate the changing of the season. Our lives can get pretty busy, and at times it may feel like we’re all pulling in separate directions, but by having a little family gathering at least once a season you’ll always have an opportunity to bring everyone back together. You can even theme the parties for either the season that you’re saying good-bye to, or the one you’re welcoming.
If you’re looking for a fun way to get the family together and out of the house at the same time, you can plan an annual scavenger hunt for the crew. Get creative on where you come up with the list of items, and you can even break down into teams or do it as an entire family. While some friendly competition is always fun, just be sure not to turn it into a day of stress and arguing by over-emphasizing winning rather than just having a good time.
Annual Tree Planting
Not just an Earth Day activity, planting a family tree each year is not only a fun event for the whole family, it offers a great opportunity to teach your children about the importance of giving back to the earth. As they grow each year, they’ll enjoy watching their trees grow right alongside them. You can add a fun twist to this one by picking a different type of tress each year, or even a different place to plant it each year.
I always love dual-purposes to the things we do as a family. One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck is to not only have a great time together, but also learn something new at the same time. There is history all around us, all we need to do is poke around a little to uncover it. Within an hours drive of you right now I bet there is a whole ton of cool, interesting things that you can learn and explore as a family. Take some time each year and load up as a family and go out in search of what was left behind by those that came before us.
Role Reversal Day
I like to keep this one at an “annual” arms-length away for its potential of turning the world upside down. Allow your children to call the shots for the day, within reason of course, and parents can kick back with the joys of being a kid again. Let them plan dinner, pick an activity for family entertainment, decide when it’s time for bed, or whatever else you can come up with. It (almost) goes without saying, but you can alleviate some conflict by laying out some ground rules before hand and retaining veto powers in the case of emergency as the parents.
Family traditions don’t have to be elaborate, cost a ton of money, or take days of pre-work to be successful. When you come together as family and do something that everyone in the household will enjoy, you’re keeping the focus where it should be, and that’s on the family as a whole. We don’t always get to appreciate these traditions in the moment; sure, the kids will have fun, and the parents will get a break from the monotony of the daily grind, but the real benefit comes much later. I never gave much thought about what we were doing while I rode in the bucket seat of that Subaru Brat, bumping down the pock-marked dirt roads; yes, they were pretty… but they were just dying leaves on trees. It would take 20 years and my moving across the country to raise my own family for me to realize just what was really happening each fall. So, don’t worry too much about what family traditions you start or keep alive, instead just focus on having fun and the memories will take care of themselves.