Family traditions are all of the special things that families do together on a regular basis- whether it’s daily (always eating dinner together), weekly (Friday night movies and popcorn), monthly (taking our kids on “date nights,” or “super-noches” as we call them), or yearly (driving around to look at Christmas lights). In our hectic lives, routine customs create special memories of your family having a great time together, that your kids will remember and probably pass on to their family.
When we took the many hours of parenting classes required to adopt our two sons, they emphasized the importance of family traditions as a way to strengthen family bonds, teach our new children our family values, and give our kids a sense of identity and security within our family: “The Smith Family always makes pancakes on Sunday mornings” or “The Lin Family plays football together every Thanksgiving” or “The Morales Family always makes a birthday sign for the birthday child.” Repeating and emphasizing that your family does it together, helps families to bond with their child, as they are included in the “we.” In reality, not only adoptive families will benefit from creating special family traditions- all families will enjoy family rituals and become stronger as they incorporate them into their lives.
Traditions do not have to be complex, time-consuming, or cost a lot of money. When asked, kids can help to come up with new family traditions, and then you can work together to make it a ritual, and share the knowledge and experience. If you’d like to get more examples, check out The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day by Meg Cox, or I Love You Rituals by Becky Bailey (these are more songs, fingerplays, daily rituals). Both of these books come highly recommended by Attachment Parenting and adoption professionals.
Here are some of our winter family traditions. Please adapt, repeat, or share with your family, and build your own family culture!:) Leave your favorite WINTER family traditions in the comments or on facebook. Then check back in the spring for more seasonal family traditions!
One favorite family tradition we’ve had is to visit the Science and Industry Museum (in Chicago) for their annual exhibit of “Christmas Tree Around the World.” If you’ve never been, it is incredible!! There are also exhibits on Chanukkah, Diwali, Chinese New Year, and Ramadan, and more, with live performances of songs and dances, and facts about how each country celebrates these winter holidays. This is one of my most favorite traditions! We always take pictures in front of the trees that are significant to my family: Mexico, China, Ireland, Slovenia. We frequently visit this after Thanksgiving when it first opens, and it really feels like the Christmas season has started.
A new tradition this year: caroling at our friends’ houses. We learned a couple of songs and attempted to surprise our friends one evening. My kids liked it so much that we repeated it on two other nights (after getting requests from kids at school!).
Every single night, we snuggle and read books on the couch. Every single night, throughout the year. During the winter we read about all of the winter holidays, stories about snow, the gingerbread man, and other seasonal books:). When it’s 80 degrees out and humid, this helps us get into the Christmas spirit!
Watching Christmas movies! We have movie night every Friday, so during the winter we sometimes pick Christmas movies. Our must-see favorites are White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas
Every year our kids participate in “Breakfast in Bethlehem,” a living Nativity scene. The kids can dress up as an angel, as Mary and Joseph, as a shepherd, or any farm animal- and then as they read the story of the first Christmas, the characters come on stage. Here’s sweet Maya as angel last year.
We usually make pancakes on the weekends, but during the winter we change up the designs. These are supposed to be reindeer!? I am not the most creative, but the kids LOVE it. By the way, these M&Ms melted when I flipped the pancakes over!
We always, always make gingerbread cookies with Grandma, to the point where my kids don’t think we can make them at our own house:). When they were little, they made silly green hats with my mom- and this has now turned into the tradition. “We have to make the hats with the cookies!”
Every year in my parents’ local newspaper, they publish the most lit-up houses in the area, with a map and guide. These are SO over the top, and outrageously decorated, with coordinating music and moving figures- the kids go crazy, we blast Christmas music, and the adults just end up laughing the whole time. I need to get a picture of this one house that has a huge train set that the kids can get out and control- I’m thinking our house will never make the list, which is why it’s fun to see others’ hard work.
We always visit Santa! In line for this visit on Christmas Eve night, I asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas. Maya looked around, saw a wreath, and said “a bow.” Perfect, I thought. It finally was our turn, and Santa asked her the same question, but misunderstood her answer. “A boat?” Her eye lit up, “Yes! A boat!!” I imagine Santa had a hard time with all of his obligations that night to come up with a boat, but somehow he did! The same visit, Ricky asked for a gingerbread house with a slide. Whew! I’m not sure how Santa made one that evening out of graham crackers and candy, but he must have finished around midnight with a lot of help from his elves! You can see why these visits are so crucial, though I suggest going before the 24th.
Christmas Eve the kids leave out cookies and milk for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph, and try to go to sleep. We always sleep at my mom and dad’s house in a big sleepover that ends quite early in the morning. The rule is: no one can go downstairs until the coffee is on, faces are washed, dogs are walked, and the adults are all awake.
We have lots of parties with family in the weekends before and after, and sometimes even a visit from Santa. Playing with cousins and huge meals are favorite traditions in our family (like many other families!).
When in Mexico, we celebrate Las Posadas, a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. It ends in a big party: delicious food, songs, a piñata, and luces de bengala (sparklers).
Every year since Vivi was born, we walk around downtown Chicago checking out the decorations in Marshall Fields (sigh, now Macy’s), watching the ice skaters, visiting the Christkindl market, and staying warm with hot cocoa and lots of layers!
Here is our family’s typical New Year’s Eve fare: tapas and finger foods that we like to call “goodies” (we have the same family tradition for Christmas Eve!). With music blasting, the kids run around playing and dancing, and are able to eat “on the run.” The adults relax with some rompope or sangría, and get ready for the countdown. We usually head to the downtown for a bit to see the carnival-like atmosphere (and sometimes they have an early countdown for kids!). Then we come home for the final house. In true Mexican tradition, we eat 12 grapes at the chimes of midnight, for good luck and prosperity in the new year (technically we also need to wear red underwear!).
Ethiopian Christmas is just a little bit later, on January 7th. Ganna, as it is called in Amharic, is a time when families gather for church and then a celebratory meal. We like to go out for Ethiopian food!
January 6th, we have Reyes Magos, the Feast of the Epiphany. In Mexico, there is a tradition of buying special bread this day and having a party with friends. As you choose your piece of bread, everyone waits to see if you got the niño Jesus (baby Jesus) in your slice- if you did, you must have a party with tamales on February 2nd, El Dia de la Candelaria.
Finally, we have Chinese New Year (which varies from year to year, celebrated somewhere near January or February). We usually go to several parties, parades and/or restaurants with other adoptive families and with Chinese friends. A couple of times the Chinese Consulate has had a wonderful party with games and food for the kids. We always follow the traditions of getting haircuts, doing a huge spring cleaning of our house, and eating some looooong noodles for a long life:).
So many family traditions!!! Just writing this post is getting me excited for the upcoming months:). What are rituals or customs that you follow during the winter months? Please share your ideas here!