Why did many Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving?
Why do some of us chop down trees and put them up in our living rooms each winter?
Tradition. It gives shape to our lives.
But to get the most from our traditions, says Meg Cox, tradition expert and author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day, we need to talk about them.
And to talk about tradition, says Cox, we need to recognize that we may already have more family traditions than we realize.
“People think that it has to be elaborate and complicated, and it doesn’t,” Cox says. “So many incredible family traditions are very quick: the way you say goodbye, the funny thing you say when you put your kid on the bus, or put them to bed.”
Over time, Cox says, those habits become traditions. That means parents should “make sure they reflect the values and messages that you want to transmit to your kids.”
So how can parents start good conversations with kids about family traditions?
Elementary age kids, says Cox, can start to think about their favorite parts of a tradition: what they like best about a holiday. And since young kids love to ask why, it’s natural to start to explain the values behind a tradition, like the sense of gratitude we hope to nurture at Thanksgiving. And to let them start shaping traditions, by asking them what they might like to add or change.
Middle school kids, Cox says, can get into deeper questions. One major benefit of tradition, Cox says, is that it nurtures a sense of identity for kids. That can be a great place to start conversations about any tradition: does it have to do with our family history, or our religious or ethnic identity? Also, traditions often have a “rite-of-passage” quality, says Cox, like moving from the kids’ table to the grown-ups table at a certain age. So parents can also talk with kids about those moments of transition, and what they might mean.
High school kids can benefit from learning more about other traditions, says Cox. And what they learn might eventually enrich family traditions: “something that might be cool for us to try.” As high school kids step into adulthood, it’s a great time to let them begin to lead. And to let go, as older kids may not always enjoy the same traditions they enjoyed as children.
At any age, it’s important to hold onto tradition, but not fear change. “Our lives change constantly,” she says. And traditions might no longer fit.“You’re growing and changing,” Cox says. “Why shouldn’t your traditions?”