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Family Traditions: Opportunities or Obligations?

Do the holidays bring to mind special memories of past family rituals, and anticipation of upcoming events? The website Forever Families defines traditions as “practices or beliefs that create positive feelings and are repeated at regular intervals.” The holidays are a common time for traditions to take place, but they can occur anytime throughout the year. Traditions can happen daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or at any other interval. Why are they important? Traditions help bond a family together by creating a sense of identity, unity and security in an often fast-paced and unpredictable world. Traditions strengthen our emotional attachments and create a unique family heritage that reflects a combination of personal values and experiences; as well as cultural, religious, and ethnic influences.

Traditions can be events that require planning and preparation, such as an extravagant meal that is only prepared on a certain day of the year, or they can be simple, uncomplicated activities like a bedtime ritual with a child. Families may want to take some time to consider methods of preserving traditions that have unique meaning. Photographs and journal descriptions of various elements of a tradition, such as preparation, food, symbols, and activities can assist families to effectively pass traditions to newer members and future generations. The thoughts and memories of both older and younger generations, associated recipes, and the origin and reason for a tradition are valuable details to include as part of describing a tradition.

The key to a meaningful tradition is the emotional element it holds for the participants. If a tradition has become a chore, or has lost value for the participants, there is nothing wrong with either discontinuing or changing it. Periodic family discussion and evaluation of traditions can prevent memories of certain activities from becoming tarnished, and can lead to new traditions that are more inclusive of family members’ changing ages, interests, and goals. The number of traditions that a family keeps also can affect how beneficial they are. A lack of traditions can lead to less family unity, while too many can reduce the importance and meaning of each individual tradition.

What traditions does your family have? For good luck, many people in our area eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. How did pigs become associated with good luck? Pigs are associated with plumpness and getting enough to eat. In addition, when rooting along the ground with its snout, a pig moves in a forward direction. People liked the idea of moving forward into the new year. In ancient Europe, wild boars were hunted on the first day of the year. This dietary tradition is a common one for many families. Other traditions are more personal. A former coworker of mine shared her family’s Christmas Eve tradition of each member opening one gift, which was always a new pair of pajamas to wear that night. Take time this season to see how many traditions your family has. You may be surprised at how many you come up with, and enjoy some special family time reminiscing about them. Maybe someone will have a new idea to try this year, which will be repeated next year, and the year after that…
Karen Kaslow, RN
Care Coordinator
Keystone Elder Law