Establishing customs and routines is the foundation of creating holiday traditions. Announcing your traditions is half the part of creating them. Creating traditions for the holidays can be made if you have children or are child-free, if you are single or married, and if you have a big or small budget to work with. It’s up to you to create or carry on traditions for the holidays. It can be carrying on old traditions, creating new ones, or a blend of both. Whatever you choose, doing them with a planned intention is a good way to start.
“You know your family, yourself, and your people the best. Make the traditions matter to them and you.”
Establish holiday traditions that work for you
The holidays are a time when people gather together and coming together isn’t always easy or cohesive. Our world has changed drastically from decades ago and many families, ours included, are blended families from a multitude of traditions and religions. Traditional holiday celebrations aren’t as straightforward as in past generations.
While this can feel like a hurdle, it can be a great opportunity to create holiday traditions that are meaningful to you and those in your life. Most of us can probably remember following a tradition because that’s the way it was always done, without challenging why we continue with the tradition. Part of it may be out of wanting to honor traditions that have come before us, but often there is a fear that making changes to traditions could be a form of betrayal on some level.
Maybe it’s my personality or experiences in life that have helped me, but I march to the beat of my own drum and make no space for shame in doing that. When creating family traditions, I have had to implement new things and let go of the old. I have to remind myself that traditions are for people, not people for traditions. If the traditions aren’t serving those who are practicing them, then why are we doing them? Advice on holiday traditions? Make them your own. You know your family, yourself, and your people the best. Create traditions that matter to them and you.
Mixing and matching traditions
Since we have a blended family with two different religions, we celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. Through an unorthodox combination, we’ve created a unique holiday season that works for us.
Our Christmas tree has menorahs, Star of Davids, Dia De Los Muertos ornaments, and ornaments from around the world from every place we have traveled to. We light the menorah nightly for eight days and give gifts to whichever children happen to be there for the candle lighting, even though they are all in their 30s. The gift is still one dollar every night and I still wonder why the kids show up for a dollar. Our youngest son, Brian, has said, “It’s our tradition and I wouldn’t feel like it’s Christmas without lighting the menorah.” Every part of his comment makes me giggle as I think about how we incorporated Chanukah and Christmas together.
Since I was a child we always had tamales for Christmas. I hold onto that tradition, but make my tamales with Chanukah brisket inside and spice it up with some mole on the side. Add on matzah ball soup and a salad, and for us, this represents our glorious mixed-up tradition of Christmas dinner. All that matters are the smiles at my dinner table and their eagerness to have what we call traditional holiday cuisine.
We love to play games as a family and even our games are a hodgepodge of traditions. We have traditional games like Left, Center, Right, Center, white elephant gifts, secret Santa gifts, and made-up games like the Chanukah ball. Whatever games bring us together and make us laugh is a keeper.
Celebrating the holidays alone
For those who are single or without children, holiday traditions may look a little different. A single girlfriend shared that she gets up early and goes for a hike alone. She brings her thermos filled with extra hot coffee to toast the world a Merry Christmas. In her words, “I get to express my free will and remind myself that I’m living the best version of myself because I created the perfect way to wake up on Christmas. “She lost her autonomy in a past relationship and swears she can never do it again.
Later in the day, she calls her family to say hello and has acquaintances come over for an early Christmas dinner. She tries to have people over who do not have someplace to go for Christmas. Planning starts months in advance. She buys premade chicken, heats it up, and serves it with a salad. Anyone coming over has to bring something to compliment what she’s serving. She makes a tradition of buying a plant and decorating it as her tree. She says when she looks around her apartment she has a little bit of Christmas spirit around her place, by the reminder of the living plants from past Christmas’. No matter if she is in a relationship or not she keeps these traditions in place much like a family with children does.
Tips for building holiday traditions
If you haven’t grown up with holiday traditions or are wanting to create new ones, here are some easy and inexpensive ideas. These are some traditions we implement, but these are all adaptable.
Plan a walk
It’s free! Who doesn’t love a simple tradition that doesn’t break the bank? More than it being free, it’s uplifting to mind, body, and spirit. Walks always bring about the most authentic conversations and it’s an instant mood booster.
Plan a fun meal out
Sharing a meal doesn’t mean it has to be a home-cooked meal. Going out for a meal together during the holidays can be just as special as being at home. Picking a specific cuisine or restaurant to visit can be a tradition all by itself!
We incorporate this fun meal out in what we call, Italian Christmas Eve. It is a tradition that was born out of the need for a break from cooking at home and also it was neutral ground. It wasn’t specific to a Hanukkah or Christmas tradition. Everyone in our family loves Italian food so it was a natural pick. This is a meal that anyone can come to and enjoy. It’s no man’s land for us and a holiday tradition that we get to sit back and enjoy.
Make food together
Making food together requires teamwork and teamwork is naturally bonding. The quote, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate,” couldn’t be more true.
Since our family is expanding I’ve been adjusting our traditions. The kids are thinking about having children of their own and often we have children come over for the holidays so I’ve been creating games where everyone can be part of it.
- LRC – I ask everyone to bring three dollars, children included. If someone forgets, I make sure I have extra ones. I always ask for them to bring their own because it creates ownership of those three dollars. I clear the kitchen counter and we roll the dice to play Left Right Center. All children, elderly adults, teens, and adults join in. We only play one round since it takes 45 min to play with a large group. The winner gets bragging rights for the evening and we take pictures galore of them making it rain dollar bills. It’s fun, easy, and loud, and creates a competitive, lively game. No skill is needed, all you have to do is roll the dice. We play this after we eat our large family dinner to stretch our legs and make room for dessert which we do after the game.
- Hanukkah Ball– I made this game up and called it the Hanukkah ball. If it’s Thanksgiving it can be the turkey ball or if it’s Christmas it can be the Christmas ball. I start by gathering a large assortment of dollar bills and candy. Sometimes I add gift cards, socks, chapstick, or something unisex. I take the plastic wrap from Costco or a large spool of furniture plastic wrap from Home Depot and create the center of the ball with old scrunched-up newspaper. I cover it in plastic wrap and then place one item from the mixed pile on the ball and cover it with the plastic wrap to hold it in place. I usually wrap the ball three to seven more times in plastic wrap then add another item. By the time I go through this process all the candy, dollar bills, and whatever I decided to put in the ball becomes one giant ball about the size of a giant pumpkin. I have everyone gather in a circle with the ball in the middle. Decide who goes first to roll two dice. The person to their right would then hold the ball to unravel it to get the prizes out from within the ball. Rolling it out on the floor does make the ball unravel faster by holding the side of the plastic. The person with the dice has to roll two of any kind to make the ball stop. It’s fast, physical for any age, and also appropriate for any age. Making the ball is a fun activity to do in a group and creates lots of lead-up to the ball roll.
- White Elephant – White elephant gifts are fun. It can be inexpensive and it’s truly that undesirable gift that makes a good laugh or a funny conversation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be bought so that kids can be part of it. I think next year I’m going to tell my family to bring an item from their house that they don’t want. It might be someone else’s treasure.
There are so many holiday traditions. Depending on your cultural upbringing, religious background, and even family structure, traditions vary with each family. While traditions are a beautiful way to pass down heritage, they are simply a way of connecting with those you love and connecting with yourself. I hope this holiday you feel that connection in a very real way.
For related posts, please check out these past posts: