Tag Archives: traditions

Holidays and Resilience

The identity of a family is wrapped up in its traditions: the daily routines and the annual rituals. As a parent educator, I talk a lot about the power of routines – the ways we move through each day that help us feel like the world is safe and predictable and manageable even in the midst of chaos and change. Rituals are also important – whether it’s how we do the tooth fairy in our family, what we do on the Fourth of July, or how we spend our winter holidays. Rituals honor our cultural heritage. They show our children what we value by what we pay attention to. They make our children feel special and loved. They help to define who we are as a family.

2020 has messed with all our routines, and with all our rituals. We may have found new daily routines that are working for us. But rituals… so many of which revolve around gathering in-person with the people we love and gathering with our communities… may seem out of reach. It’s natural to have a lot of grief over all the things we can’t have this year. (Here are tips for managing the grief.) But we can also work to figure out ways to adapt our traditions to this year’s limitations. We can create new rituals. And we can use this as a year to focus on resilience.

Resilience is often thought of as the ability to bounce back from challenges. Another way to view it is ““being able to continue functioning relatively normally” in adversity.

There are lots of ways we can build resilience in children, but one important one is to tell our children stories of the family’s history that are not just about the family’s successes, but about the ups AND the downs… “we had plenty of hard times, but we made it through together.” It creates a story for the child that “our people” are resilient. (Learn about Marshall Duke’s research on family stories and resilience.) This year is a great year to find a way to incorporate these narratives into your holiday celebrations. I’ll share something I’ve done here, and encourage you to reflect on how you might celebrate resilience through the holidays this year.

Honoring Your Family’s History

At my church, one Sunday in every December, we ask members to share a photo of their family’s holiday traditions, and we gather them into a slide show. Watching those slideshows always brings smiles, and warm cozy feelings. But this year, when I went to find a photo from a previous holiday, it made me very sad. At first, seeing all those photos of large family gatherings just made me grieve all the things that I couldn’t have this year.

Then going into Thanksgiving, I realized that I needed to reclaim those memories, and re-define their meaning for this year. For our family’s Thanksgiving over Zoom, I went through 30 years of photos, and for each year, I found one photo of a family meal or holiday gathering. The first slide read: “Our Family, Gathering Together for the Holidays… The location changes, the guest list changes, loved ones pass away, and new loved ones join us, and through it all, the family goes on.”

We watched it together on Zoom, talking and sharing memories. We talked about the loved ones in the photos that have passed away and shared stories about them. We puzzled over a stranger in one of the photos… who was it? Maybe the nephew’s “holidate” for that year?? We remembered the year my partner and I were divorced, before we got back together again. (We’ve now been back together for 20 years!) We smiled as the babies appeared – including a baby who is now 27 and all those who came after him. We welcomed the new family-in-law members who have joined us over the years. I included a picture from this year, with three of us at one table, and the laptop showing everyone else on Skype. The pandemic reality seems all-encompassing now but it’s helpful to think that someday, 2020 will be just one picture of many, and we’ll chuckle as we remember “the year we all stayed home.” In our holiday pictures, we clearly saw that although the family changes and evolves every year, the love and connection stays constant.

If you look only at this year, it seems so disconnected from all that came before. But it’s not. It’s just the current chapter in a long history of a family. A history that includes good times and bad, that has been through challenges before and still is strong. Taking time to acknowledge that was helpful. It led me to think more broadly of the stories we could tell with this year’s celebrations.

Honoring Your Family’s Traditions in a New Way

Remembering What Connects Us

A Jewish friend of mine said: “Maybe to bridge the separation we are all feeling this year, think as you light candles over Chanukah of the connection you have to Jews all over the planet who are lighting candles with you. There is synergy this year as remembering a holiday that celebrates our perseverance and faith that things will get better.” Your faith traditions can help to link you to the history of your people, and also to others around the world who are walking through this challenging year with you.

Every year, my church ends our Christmas Eve service by holding candles as we sing Silent Night, and passing a flame from candle to candle till all are lit. This year, on Zoom, we’ll share a slide show of all of us holding candles, and we’ll all light our own candles at home as we sing along. Our community still unites even as we are separate.

Gather Around the Virtual Table

Many families have long been gathering on Zoom (or Skype or Messenger or Teams…) for family dinners and celebrations. (If you don’t know how to use Zoom, I have a full guide to Zoom which can take you from beginning to expert.) My own family’s tradition of a family dinner every Sunday for those of us who live in Washington has now evolved into weekly dinner calls including family in Nebraska, New Jersey, Wyoming, and England. This Thanksgiving was the first year EVER where my husband and I saw ALL of our siblings and ALL of our parents on Thanksgiving. Zoom gatherings are not the same as in-person, but they have their own blessings. (If you need ideas for fun interactive things to do on a telechat, check out this post.)

At a holiday gathering on Zoom consider doing a Year in Review. Share the highs and lows of your year, and celebrate the roses you’ve found amongst the thorns of 2020. That celebrates our strength, resilience, and adaptability.

Deck the Halls… or the Yard

Some people are saying “why bother decorating – no one else will see the decorations.” If you always find decorating exhausting, then 2020 is a great excuse to skip it. But if any part of decorating gives you joy, go for it! Do whatever small portion of it has meaning, or go way over the top beyond what you’ve done before. Take pictures and share them on social media! Or decorate the OUTSIDE of your house so neighbors get to enjoy. That outdoor décor can also be helpful if your family gatherings will be outside in the back yard this year.

As a preschool teacher whose classes haven’t met in person in months, I have an overabundance of bubble solution in my life… and I have a bubble machine! So on Christmas Eve, we plan to send bubbles streaming from our deck to anyone passing by. It’s just a small way to connect with a community of neighbors that we value.

How Can We Keep From Singing

Music is important to our family… particularly singing. It’s something we do together as a family. If you miss singing out loud:

  • can you just crank up the tunes out home and sing along?
  • can you sing “with others” online? On a Zoom call, one person sings aloud (learn how to make music work on Zoom) and everyone else is on mute, but sings along at home and can see the others singing- it’s more joyful than you might think!
  • could you go for a Christmas Caroling walk through your neighborhood, belting out the tunes? (Just be sure not to sing when anyone else is within 25 feet or so, because singing does carry a higher risk of transmitting any virus we might have.)

Enjoying singing is claiming your right to find JOY even in these challenging times.

The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol?

Theater is a big part of our family culture. If your typical holiday season includes viewing live performances and the arts are important to your family, try a “dinner and a show” night at home. Get dressed up, pick up a fancy meal takeout, sit at the table and eat a celebratory meal. Then go sit in your living room with the lights off as if you were in a theater, and watch many of the holiday shows that are available for streaming online via your local arts organizations, Broadway on Demand and Broadway HD. (We did this last night and our son pretended to be our “usher” – he escorted us to our seats, asked if we needed anything to be comfortable and reminded us to silence our cell phones before the show started. We clapped at the end of each number.) After the show, remember to donate to an arts organization that has fed your family’s soul in the past.

Giving To Others

Many experts recommend thinking about gratitude and celebrating all the things your family DOES have this year, and then consider spreading your “wealth” – whatever form that takes – to others. Donating money, or time, or sharing beauty through art, or sharing kindness with others, or donating to food banks and gift drives could all be ways to acknowledge that your family has enough blessings to share.

Letting Go of What Doesn’t Bring Joy

This article from Mental Health America has a good point: “Don’t Romanticize Your Typical Holiday Plans. Remember that while your holiday season may normally be full of excitement and joy, it can also be a time of high stress. Long days of travel, endless to-do lists, and dinners with that one family member you don’t get along with are all part of the holidays too…” This year may be a great chance to free yourself from the stale habits and burdensome obligations, and re-focus on what your true priorities are and what things would actually make your holidays happy.

Talking with Children about New Traditions

If you’re parenting young children this year you may feel like you have to put on a smiling face all the time. I think it’s fair to share with our children when we’re feeling sad – “This year, I miss the fact that we can’t do _____ like we usually do.” For older children, honor that this may make them sad too. (Young children may have no memory of what you “normally” do.) And then we can say (to ourselves and to them) – “But I know our family has many many years we’ll be able to do that exact tradition. The part of that tradition that is important is that it honors ______ because that is something that is important to our family. Here’s how we’re going to honor that this year.”

If you have older children, involve them in planning. Time has helpful tips on adapting holiday traditions for COVID, as does AARP.

I would love to hear ideas for how you are adapting your holiday traditions for your family and how this could tell a story of how “our family is resilient and comes through hard times even stronger than before.” Click on “Leave a Reply” at the top of this post to share your ideas.

Muddling Through Somehow

The lyrics of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas say:

“Next year all our troubles will be out of sight… Faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more. Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow…”

As we admit that we’re muddling through this year, we can also embrace that we are learning how to be resilient, how to adapt, and how to find the light in the darkness.

Routines and Rituals

When working with parents of toddlers and preschoolers, I talk a lot about the benefits of daily routines. Today I want to look at the difference between the routines of everyday life and the rituals of the year.

Routines Rituals
When: Daily or Weekly. Everyday life. When: Holidays, Seasons, Life Events
What: Predictable, reliable, easy to learn and to do What: Special, memorable. Specific to family / culture
How they make kids feel: Safe, competent How they make kids feel: Special, loved
Examples:
·       How they wake up in the morning
·       How you say goodbye when you go to work or they go to school
·       How you reunite and share your day
·       Mealtimes – Do you eat together?
·       Bedtime Routine
Examples:
·       Birthdays
·       Holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, religious and cultural holidays
·       Life events: first day of school, graduation, tooth fairy, etc.
Hint from an experienced parent: Keep it short and simple! Hint from an experienced parent: Make it special, but not too elaborate or expensive. It needs to be easy to repeat if you want it to be a tradition.
How you know a routine is working for your family: It makes everyone’s life calmer and more enjoyable. You can enjoy it too! How you know a ritual is working for your family: It feels special, and meaningful and fun to you to. If you’re overwhelmed with stress trying to do something, think about how to simplify it to focus on what’s important to you.

When your child is young, it’s a great time to think about what you want your family rituals to be around holidays and special occasions. If there are traditions from your family of origin or group of friends that work for you, definitely keep doing them. But, if there are traditions that just exhaust or frustrate you, then having a new child in your life is a great excuse to get out of those activities!

Think about what rituals you would enjoy. What would feed special to you? What would be fun for you? What lessons do you want your child to learn about your family values from the way you celebrate holidays? When your child is one year old, test some out. When they’re two years old, repeat the ones that you liked, but drop the rest, and try something new. When they’re three or four years old, experiment some more. By the time they’re five years old, they’ll start noticing and remembering traditions, so it’s nice if you’ve found some good “keepers” by then.

When you do these rituals, reinforce their power by reminding your child that they are traditions: “Every year, you get to open one present on Christmas Eve” or “remember, last year when you were four, you found four balloons in the house – how many do you think you’ll find this year?” Tell them why you do those traditions: “I give you a book every year for your birthday because my dad gave me a book for my birthday every year” or “We always volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. day because it’s important to work to make the world a better place.”

It’s OK if your traditions are different from their friend’s family! When your child says “How come my friend does this and we don’t” you can explain your family culture and how you make the choices that are right for you.

Learn more about daily routines here and specifically about sleep-related routines here.

Read more about birthday rituals here and more about using rituals to connect your child to his/her culture and heritage here.

Connect your Child with their Cultural Identity

Identifying your culture and cultural values

If you do an internet search on connecting children to their cultural identity, you’ll mostly find articles for adoptive parents connecting their child to a culture of origin that is different from that of the parents. You’ll find a handful of articles for parents who are part of a religious or ethnic minority group. There is little about how people from any background might do it.

I think people who view themselves as part of “mainstream America” may often not think of themselves as having a cultural identity. I have heard people, when asked their  identity, respond “umm…. white?? American?? I don’t really have a cultural identity.”

But clearly, we are shaped by our background. I have a friend who is my age, Caucasian like me, and “American.” But I was raised in a church-going, military family of four in Wyoming. She was an only child raised by a liberal single mom in Berkeley in the early 70’s. So although that friend and I have a lot of common from our current perspectives, we’ve certainly run across times when we have very different assumptions about ‘how the world works’ and ‘how things are done.’

And that’s what defines cultural identity: what are those unconscious assumptions about big picture ideas like how the world works, what is our role in the community, and the significance of the family. It’s also the little things: when we get up in the morning, when we eat dinner, what we eat. Sometimes you don’t understand something is your culture until you encounter a different culture. Again, it’s sometimes in the little things: at my family’s holiday meals, the cook worked hard to get everything to the table hot and at the peak of perfection – to wait to eat it would have been horribly rude. In college, when I visited friends, I discovered (after some shocked looks sent my way) that in other families, it is horribly rude to start eating before everyone (including the cook) is seated.

Like a fish learning to describe water, the first step of connecting your child to a cultural identity may be for you to figure out what that identity is!

Here are topics you may want to think about:

  • What is your cultural background?
  • How might that be the same or different from other people in your child’s community?
  • What are some of cultural values that resonate with you? Are there values or attitudes you would like to leave behind?
  • What things in your life have helped you connect to your cultural identity?
  • What traditions or rituals do you want to continue to follow?

Sometimes talking with other people about their culture, or reading books from diverse cultures, can help you to understand your own better. I would recommend Parenting without Borders as a great introduction to other cultures’ approaches to parenting.

Beginning to talk about culture

We don’t have to wait till children are “old enough” to understand religion and culture to begin talking about it. Like everything else in their lives, from food to books to dressing themselves, we talk from the beginning about all the things they experience, and trust that their understanding of it will grow and deepen as they get older.

Young children are very concrete. They learn through hands-on experience, and through observing the important people in their lives. They don’t really learn through abstract conversations about abstract ideas. They also learn through repetition, so as you begin to think about what parts of your cultural identity and values you want to reinforce, keep that in mind.

Culture: Routines, Rituals, and Traditions

For a toddler, life often seems unpredictable and random. Routines create a reassuring sense of structure in a child’s life – the more they know what is coming next, the more manageable life seems for them. They appreciate the sense gained from daily routines that ‘this is how my family does things.’ Ritual and traditions take that to the next level: ‘this is how my people do things and how we have done things for a very long time’. For example, from annual holiday traditions, they gain a sense of how time passes, bringing with it lots of change, but also retaining some important cores.

Some places to consider adding rituals or traditions:

  • Daily: How do you begin your days together? What are mealtimes like? What is the typical rhythm of the day? What’s the bedtime routine?
  • Weekly: Could you do “family date nights”? Weekly dinners with extended family?
  • Holidays: Which do you celebrate? How do you celebrate? What are the special decorations? Foods? Gifts?
  • Special occasions: Does the tooth fairy come to your house? What do you do for birthdays? Weddings?
  • Other family traditions: Do you have nicknames or family in-jokes or songs? Stories about the funny quirks of relatives?

Some ways to include cultural identity in your child’s life:

  • Tell stories. Talk about your childhood, how your family did things, about their grandparents’ childhoods, and so on.
  • Read books about your culture, listen to ethnic music or the music your parents played/sang when you were young, eat foods that were traditional where you were raised. (That’s Jello salad and snickerdoodle cookies for me!)
  • Learn the language of your culture. (Or share with your children the regional dialect of English that you were raised with.)
  • Go to religious services or cultural festivals.
  • Make scrapbooks with information about your family’s history: a family tree, photographs, documents of your family’s journey

Learn more: www.growparenting.com/pages/blog_files/Building-Cultural-Identity.php