My husband and I got married a month before my 29th birthday. Neither of us had had a birthday while dating, so this was the first birthday we would celebrate together. In my family, my parents always made a big deal of our birthdays. We got a cake and quite a few thoughtful presents. What I did not know, because we had not discussed it, was that in my husband’s family, they didn’t really do anything for birthdays. My birthday dawned and I was disappointed that my husband didn’t get a cake, presents, or plan any kind of birthday dinner. This same disappointment would also accompany the following holidays.
What I did not do well in those early married years that I have come to be proficient at now is to discuss expectations around holidays and understand that when you merge two individuals from different families, you both come with an entirely different experience from your family of origin.
We had a home-cooked dinner every night as a family while my husbands’ family ate takeout or bbq. My family celebrated Christmas primarily on Christmas Eve with an elaborate Polish meal of 12 dishes all dressed up, while his family ate Chinese takeout in pajamas that day.
None of these family traditions are right or wrong – they are just different. When creating a family together with our children, we had to decide what traditions we liked, what we didn’t, and what new traditions we wanted to create together.
This was compounded by our families’ differing religious backgrounds and what religious upbringing, or no religious upbringing, we wanted to teach our children.
Here are some traditions we have created within our little family, some religious-based but most not. My hope is you can get some inspiration for things you would like to incorporate into your family traditions.
1. Family dinner – Rose, Bud, Thorn
Studies show that having dinner together as a family is good for kids on many levels. We decided a tradition we felt was important was sitting down together as often as possible for family dinner.
We all say our Rose, Bud, and Thorn for the day (rose = highlight, bud = something challenging, thorn = something they are excited about).
2. Family pizza night
On Friday nights we cook pizza (or get takeout if it’s been one of those days) and we eat in the living room and watch a movie.
Our kids love this! They love pizza, they love eating in the living room, snuggled up on the family sofa, and they love watching a family movie.
One of our favorite family traditions is Geocaching together.
It gets exercise in, it’s fun and also helps teach our kids geography. Plus finding the hidden paper is just seriously so fun. You can use a free phone app to find geocaches all over the world.
4. Family Song
One night our baby would not go to sleep. My husband and I took turns rocking him with no luck. In desperation, my husband sang every children’s song he knew, which wasn’t a lot.
Off the cuff, he made up a song using our last name and we were so delirious with exhaustion that we thought it was brilliant and wonderful and somehow didn’t forget it the next day. We now sing this family song every night with our kids before bed.
5. The Animal Game
Once again exhaustion reared its delirious head to create one of our favorite family traditions – the animal game. It’s basically charades but our kids don’t know that. Each family member takes a turn going to the front of the living room and enacting an animal. We then have to guess what animal they are being.
It’s perfect for small kids who can’t read the paper to get an assigned charades character. It gets out lots of energy while Mom and Dad sit on the couch and casually guess animals. It’s a fun game and feels special because we created it!
6. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
There’s a classic book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. My kids loved to read this book over and over and one night our family was inspired to reenact the book, including sleeping in a tent as a family in the backyard.
It has evolved over the years and now is a formal holiday at our house. My husband has a bear mask and we have an entire evening dedicated to the bear hunt and then sleep in the backyard.
A holiday we love celebrating every year is the day we moved into our family home!
We take a picture outside our house every year on the date we moved in and have a birthday dinner. We get balloons, sing happy birthday to our house and have a fancy dinner at home.
8. Family Symposium
We felt it was important to instill family values in our kids, like meditation, without attending a formal religious institution. Enter – symposium! A fancy word that means gathering together to discuss important items.
We try to do it in the morning when we can before school a couple of times a week and on Sunday. We meditate together, we say what we’re grateful for, we discuss a virtue (like honesty) and we say a family theme. This is one of our most treasured family traditions.
9. No Friends Sunday
We started this tradition when our kids were little luckily and it is so meaningful for us today. The week tends to get so busy with things, as does our Saturday. So, we made a rule that no one could make plans on Sunday.
Sunday was strictly for family. It has been so fun to go to museums together, go on walks, and our favorite – play board games.
10. Birthday Cake
Every year on our kids’ birthday I make them a special cake. I’ve made a fish cake, barnyard cake, ghost cake, and many many more!
It’s something I enjoy and as my kids have gotten older, they have started to enjoy making the cake with me. We love looking up pictures of cakes in the theme they pick and then making and decorating the cake together. It’s turned into such fun quality time.
11. Halloween Decoration Drive
There is a group in our city that collects all the best home Halloween decorations and uploads them to GoogleMaps and publishes it. Every year we get dressed in our costumes, go to a local haunted forest with our kids that is family-friendly and drive around looking at all the houses decorated for Halloween.
This has become one of our absolute favorite family traditions.
12. Valentine’s Day Fondue Night
When you have little kids, finding a babysitter you trust is easier said than done. Finding one on Valentine’s weekend is even harder – not to mention fighting the crowds!
On our first Valentine’s Day as parents, we decided to just stay home and celebrate our love with our biggest loves – our kids.
We wanted to do something special, so we decided to do fondue! We had so much fun we have done it every single Valentine’s Day since! We’ve included lots of different family members and friends over the year, and it has become one of our favorite traditions.
13. Christmas Traditions
Then we do a gift exchange draw so everyone in the family draws one family member to get a gift for and we close the night out by watching one of the versions of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
Every year we give each of our kids an ornament that has to do with something big for them that year. It’s fun to look at the tree and remember important events for each kid throughout their life.
My sons get themed ones depending on their interests. Even if one year it had to be Paw Patrol.
Every family is going to celebrate things differently – and that is as it should be. This list is by no means comprehensive, but my hope is it might give you some ideas of traditions to start in your family!