A dining room table covered in festive dishes and decor.
Food & Drink

Starting Holiday Traditions in Your Family

Family holiday traditions can keep us tethered to the ones we love throughout the year. They are markers of moments, of time, making the holidays more than a date on a calendar.

Each holiday season, we look forward to these traditions with anticipation and find familiarity in the annual moments that build our memories. For some families it’s a way to find connection and meaning for the holiday, and for others, traditions act as a buffer against the stressful hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

“Traditions are rooted in who we are as people, and the people we share our lives with.”

A Family Expression: The Story of Us

A tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs through the generations, something that’s done year after year. Traditions are rooted in who we are as people, and the people we share our lives with. They remind us not only of the holidays but of the ones we love, and that’s why traditions can be so meaningful for families. The things you do, the foods you eat, the places you go each year during the holidays are personal to your family and represent so much of who you are. From your beliefs and values to hobbies and interests, traditions tell the story of your family. Starting new family holiday traditions can be a way to tell the story of your family now and give you the freedom to choose what’s passed on in that story through the generations.

Traditions are also an outward, tangible representation of your identity as a family to friends and extended family, like a window into your life. When you bring someone home to meet your family during the holidays, those traditions and customs are something you can share. Creating holiday traditions is like creating a piece of history; the inception of a story yet to be fully unraveled as each year and each generation adds their personal touch to the tradition.

Finding Inspiration

Starting a family holiday tradition can be unifying, especially for families just getting established like newlyweds or blended families, or families during changing stages of life like bringing home a new baby. Pull inspiration from your own backgrounds and visualize what you want for your family holiday celebrations in the here and now to create a meaningful holiday tradition reflective of your growing family while grounded in where you come from. 

Drawing on personal nostalgia can produce some of the best holiday family traditions and may be spin offs of the ones you remember from your own past. Your own happy memories of holidays and home can make for a great foundation for new family traditions. What smells do you remember coming from the kitchen? What sights and sounds remind you of holidays at home? Sharing these feelings and recreating some of that personal nostalgia can help you embrace your past as you build future traditions. 

Our culture is a construct of who we are and when we start our own families; it’s a huge piece of who we are. Some holiday traditions are cultural centric and important for some people to continue in their own families. This might be as simple as teaching your children how to make cultural dishes or participate in a religious ritual or ceremony as a family. Or maybe it’s blending cultures if there are different cultural backgrounds within a family. This can look different for each family but paying homage to culture in new traditions can give our families identity and feel rooted in something bigger than ourselves. 

Purpose is another consideration when starting new traditions in a family. Are you looking for more connection within your own family? Do you want to mitigate the holiday stress? Commemorate a special event or belief? Narrowing down the “why” can be helpful when choosing holiday traditions. 

Remember to keep it simple. Traditions should be fun. To create lasting family holiday traditions, think about the things you and your family already enjoy doing and create a tradition around those hobbies or pastimes. It’s not about reinventing the way your family celebrates the entire holiday season. Adding just one or two new traditions can bring new perspective and meaning to the holidays.

Tasty Traditions to Try as a Family

There’s good reason why almost every celebration is centered around food and drink. Eating and drinking are a part of the way we celebrate as humans. It’s at the core of almost every culture’s celebration, especially around the holidays. Traditions rooted in food and drink have longevity and evoke the senses in a way that makes them that much more memorable. There’s a good chance you know the taste of a family dish that’s made every year, and the very smell of that dish brings with it an entire illusion of holidays past. That is tradition. 

Unique and creative or tame and traditional, the things we do to celebrate the holidays are a part of who we are. Here are a few ideas: 

Transform Thanksgiving leftovers into turkey themed tacos

Put that refrigerator full of post-Thanksgiving leftovers to good use with a tradition of “Tacos after Turkey Day.” After a day full of traditional Thanksgiving foods like stuffing, casseroles, and pie, get creative in the kitchen building tacos out of what’s left over from the holiday. Turn this tradition into a competition for the most creative turkey taco concoction or make it a meal. Need some inspiration? Try Sweet Potato Tacos with Lime Crema or repurpose that cranberry sauce into a vibrant taco topping of cranberry salsa.

Make your own sweets for a homemade calendar countdown

The countdown to Christmas, or other winter holidays, can be just as exciting as Christmas Day itself. To make the wait that much sweeter, take on a tradition of making your own calendar complete with tasty treats. There are many ways to organize your countdown to Christmas from pre-made wooden holiday trees with little doors you open each day to hanging felt calendars fashioned with little pockets for each day. Make it a tradition to craft your own homemade sweets to fill those calendars. Use festive candy molds to make homemade chocolate, caramels, or candies like Candy Conversation Hearts.  

Assemble a hot chocolate bar for a holiday movie marathon

Welcome the holiday season with an annual holiday movie marathon day featuring a decked out hot chocolate bar. Take this opportunity to pull out some traditional classics or indulge in a Hallmark movie marathon as your family sips hot chocolate. If you’re feeling creative, try Gingerbread Hot Cocoa and Marshmallow Men or pair your hot cocoa with cookies for a Hot Chocolate Bar and Cookie Exchange.

Hold a thematic gingerbread house competition

Add a little competitive spirit to your family’s holiday celebration with a gingerbread house competition. Change the theme up each year for an element of challenge, limit the ingredients, or select a “secret ingredient surprise” pulled out last minute. Part of this tradition can include categories of judging like taste, décor, or originality. Ask the neighbors over to judge the houses, or post on social media for a crowdsourcing vote of which family member takes the lead for that year. Decide what the winner receives; maybe a fake trophy, a week off chores, or the simple pleasures of winning.

Teach a friend to make traditional dishes

Invite friends or neighbors over for a cooking lesson on how to make traditional holiday meals or dishes that are a part of your culture or extended family’s culture. If your dish requires a special preparation method, teach friends this new skill and enjoy the end result together. You can even print off special recipe cards as a keepsake to take home and try on their own.

The Importance of Community: Family Holiday Traditions featuring Friends

Some of the best family holiday traditions include members of your community, friends, or extended family. These annual customs can bring your family and community together in a more intimate way than you may find any other time of year. Using family tradition to connect with those around you can be the perfect way to celebrate the season. Some holiday traditions’ meaning lies in your values as a family and connecting with your community can be an outward expression of those values.

Hosting a cookie swap or a family holiday bake off competition can be a great way to include friends and neighbors in holiday traditions. Friendsgiving is another popular tradition that you can adapt to your own celebration. One more unique idea is to “stuff your neighbor’s stocking.” This tradition includes going to neighbor’s houses and leaving a note that they’ve been “socked” along with a tasty bag of homemade treats or small gifts with the instructions to pass it on to someone else. A tradition like this joins acts of kindness with your community to spread the joy of the holidays. Your family creates what goes in the stocking and gets to make it together. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen is another way to do good and celebrate your gratitude as a family. Acts of service as a holiday tradition can bring purpose and perspective to the holiday season.