Holiday traditions that last a lifetime

Pick a night and drive around to see the dazzling displays in your neighbourhood.

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By Maggie Dent

As the end of the year comes hurtling toward us, many of us may be feeling mixed emotions.

This time of year can be expensive, stressful as well as emotionally overwhelming.

However, it can also present us with the opportunity to reflect on family rituals and in our busy lives it is easy to let these things slide and forget that they can create a special spark of magic in your family.

Rituals are positive things we do that are unique to us and have a secret capacity to bond and strengthen loving connections.

They are so much more than habits – they have a meaningful and often measurable impact on those we love.

Studies show that happy families not only have treasured traditions, they constantly evolve new ones that help them find their way through the inevitable changes of growing up.

Rituals bring a degree of predictability and certainty to something uncertain. They direct our anticipation in a positive direction and prime our brains to make the most of whatever we are about to experience.

In our stress-filled, chaotic world they can be such soothing influences. While sometimes we may engage in rituals automatically and without thought, it is precisely that strength of habit that makes them a source of comfort – especially for children.

Rituals are really important in building stability, predictability, connectedness and enhancing the brain chemicals associated with delight and joy. You probably have lots that you don’t even notice!

Welcoming and farewelling rituals can be deceptively powerful – especially in the morning after a major conflict with a strong-willed child!

Start a tradition where every member of the family is given a book and begin nightly reading sessions.

Some parents leave a kiss in the palms of their kids’ hands – mum on the left, dad on the right. Special hand-shakes are often very popular for lads and I still have fond memories of my dad saying ‘See you later alligator’ and we answered ‘In a while crocodile!’

Creating rituals is easy and fun and you can start anytime. So as you are rushing through the festive season, don’t forget it’s these little moments you share as a family that will long outlast the gifts.

Here are some ideas from Connect to help get you started:

1. Go holiday “light-seeing”
Whether your house is aglow in holiday lights or you prefer to let others do the outdoor decorating, pick a night where you all pack in the car and drive around to see the dazzling displays in your neighbourhood.

2. Start an ornament collection
Capture memories in the form of special ornaments that grow your collection each year. Commemorate a birthday, a child’s special interest, hang school photos on the Christmas tree or even personalize ornaments with names and dates.

3. Set up a Christmas Eve hot cocoa bar
Break out the hot cocoa and Christmas cookies—but step up your presentation a notch: Instead of just serving everyone a mug of cocoa, set up a hot-cocoa station complete with mini marshmallows, whipped cream, coloured sprinkles, candy canes and more.

4. Bake biscuits with the kids
Invite family and friends over for a BYOCC (bring your own cookie cutters) holiday baking party. Kids love pressing out the shapes and decorating and over-decorating the finished cookies. Tip: Make it easy by starting with pre-made dough

5. Wear matching holiday PJs
Admit it … matching holiday pyjamas are just fun—and not just for the kids. Start a Christmas Eve tradition where you all open up one special gift that you can use right away – coordinating sleepwear.

6. Pose for a picture
Capture your holiday with a special photo session. Try taking the pictures at the same location each year, and watch everyone grow. A great keepsake for the whole family.

7. Incorporate a new cultural tradition
Broaden your family’s cultural awareness and spice up a typical holiday celebration with traditions from around the world. Look to your own roots for inspiration, or explore a culture that has always fascinated you. It can be as simple as learning to say Merry Christmas in another language, or as elaborate as fixing a traditional holiday food from across the globe.

8. Create a holiday playlist
Whether you’re decorating your tree, preparing for a festive party or just enjoying some down time at home , help your family get their groove on with a customised holiday playlist. Ask everyone to add their favourite tunes and challenge each family member to discover a festive new find.

Give everyone a night off from the kitchen and rotate who picks the restaurant and type of food.

9. Make a Takeaway Night a Thing
Give everyone a night off from the kitchen and rotate who picks the restaurant and type of food.

10. Watch the same holiday movie every season
No matter if you’re a Miracle on 34th Street kind of family, a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer clan, or into the romantic comedy Love Actually, make a point to set aside a movie night to watch the same classic flick together. Even if you talk over some scenes, it’ll make for a blissfully nostalgic event.

11. Family Game Night
Set a time and institute a family game night. Cards, Monopoly, chess or backgammon are perennial favourites that will allow your family to connect while disconnecting from electronic media.

12. Box of Goals.
An important life skill for your children to develop is how to set and work towards a goal. What better way to teach this than with a family tradition? Get a fancy wooden box and on the first day of the year, have your family members write down all of the goals they’d like to achieve in the year ahead. At the end of the year take out the pieces of paper and review the goals.

13. Out with the Old, In with the New.
Teach your kids to live just a bit more simply, to accumulate less stuff, and not to hold onto what they have too tightly. For every present they receive have them identify the same number of their old toys/clothes and donate to those in need.

14. Happiness Jar
At the start of each week go around the table at dinnertime and share the best moment from our day, then write it down and put it in the jar. It helps the whole family to celebrate the joy of others. Once a month go through them as a family and do them again.

A trip to the country isn’t always practical, but with a few old blankets and a tent, you can give your kids an enjoyable outdoor experience.

15. Camping in your backyard
A trip to the country isn’t always practical, but with a few old blankets and a tent, you can give your kids an enjoyable outdoor experience. Tell great stories, make flashlight animals and make it a night your children will remember.

16. Construct a Family Tablecloth
Use a plain white tablecloth and fabric markers to personalise your Christmas / New Year table. Have each person write their signature, the date and what they are thankful for on the cloth before the meal begins. Use the same tablecloth each year and enjoy reading the old memories before you add new ones.

17. Create a gratitude tree
It’s a fun way to share what the family means to them. Cut out the shape of a tree with lots of branches, then tape it to your dining room wall or attach it to the refrigerator. Cut out leaf shapes and let each family member write something for which they are thankful on a leaf and attach to the tree with tape. Your tree will quickly take shape as the thankful leaves are added.

18. Donate to charity
Christmas is a great time to sort through the kids toys and clothing and donate what they no longer need.

19. Read a book
Start a tradition where every member of the family is given a book and begin nightly reading sessions. Let everyone select the title and enjoy some down time amid the chaos.

20. Be thankful and feel blessed
Not really a tradition, but something that needs to be remembered. At a time where everyone is so busy, take a step back and look at what is right in front of us. No matter how you celebrate the season, be merry and fill your days with joy!