Are Family Traditions Important?

family traditions
Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts Sheridan House Family Ministries

We are heading into a season of opportunity. For some families Thanksgiving and Christmas can help define who they are. For others these holidays are little more than eating and expense. Where do family traditions fit in? Traditions might just be the most important part of this holiday season. In fact, Tevye, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” kept singing that traditions were the signposts that kept a family going in difficult times.

Where did our traditions go? For some reason many homes left the traditions at grandma’s house. Traditions are the repetitive activities that can help children feel as if they are a part of a family that is special. In our very time conscious society, the only traditions many families do is eat turkey one day in November and buy too many gifts in December. Each of those activities are completed in a couple hours. These activities seem to add nothing but inches to our waste lines and balances to our credit cards. Certainly something more is needed.


Family unity

No one will take the time in bring back family traditions unless they can see the value. The first value added by family traditions is family unity.  The children are made to feel as if they are part of something special if they can anticipate special, predictable events at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Take Thanksgiving for this month. When children participate in yearly traditions that only their family does, it helps them feel like they are part of something special. If their Thanksgiving is exactly the same as every other family’s eating feast, why come home for the holidays? It’s an opportunity to allow them to focus on the unique and individuality of their particular home.


The comfort of predictability

The child will love it and the teen might baulk, but eventually the traditions will help them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Today’s child has many stresses on them. Traditions can even help comfort a child with familiarity and make him feel as if his family is unique, in a good way.

Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity for special foods that might seem strange to other children but comfortably predictable to the child who has grown up with mom’s traditional string bean casserole. The child might never say, “I appreciate the fact that you always make this casserole,” but wait until the year mom doesn’t make it. “Hey, mom where’s the casserole?” They come to expect the comfort of predictability.

Particular kinds of food are a major part of family traditions, but that’s just the beginning. This is also an opportunity to reunite with extended family. Yes, everyone has family members that are different. Extended family members we would prefer not to invite. (I know that because I seem to get invited less and less each year.) But that’s still family and there are lessons to be taught about odd people like obnoxious Uncle Bob. Thanksgiving ushers in the traditional lesson that a child has people who care for them, and who extend beyond his or her immediate family.


Making it meaningful

family traditionsThe most instructive tradition, however, is to create and maintain a tradition of purpose. What is the purpose of Thanksgiving? For that we have to go back to the root of this holiday, the first Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving was actually held in a time of crisis, a much bigger crisis than our economy. A harsh winter and a shortage of food left the Pilgrims obviously dependent upon God for the rescue. Sure enough, God, as He always does, rescued the Pilgrims through the assistance of their neighbors, the native Americans of that region. The first Thanksgiving was started just as its name implies, as a tradition of gratitude to God for meeting their needs abundantly.

This too can be a time of fear for the American child. The whole nation is fearfully and continually focused on the difficult economy, elections and other social strains. A child would have to be in a bubble to miss the way people are talking about the future. A revival of the tradition of true thanks giving has never been more needed in this generation.

In our house we start Thanksgiving week each year by taping a large sheet of poster board to the refrigerator with a pen close at hand. Each family member and visitor takes the time to write things on the poster board that he or she is grateful for, things God has done in their lives. We personalize it by putting our initials next to what we write. This tradition of writing needs to start with mom and dad because it is important to lead by example.

On Thanksgiving Day the poster board is read at the table. The purpose of this tradition is obvious. We want to create an attitude of gratefulness to God and a confidence in God.

The most meaningful Thanksgiving tradition is to bring this holiday back to its original intent, the tradition of thanking God for His blessings. It also offers another opportunity to remind the children what our family stands for. The tradition is about more than turkey. It’s about confidence in the power of God, a tradition today’s child is desperate for!


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