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How are your holiday preparations going?  Even though Thanksgiving was just two weeks ago, most of us are in the midst of preparing for the upcoming holidays. Do you feel that you will run out of time with all the things that you think need to be done?   Hopefully you can evaluate and downsize your to-do list and focus on the most important matters, including family traditions.   

The holidays are the time of year that we tend to think of family traditions.  What special traditions do you have in your family?  According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s “The Growing Years,”   traditions give family members a sense of belonging.  They help us know who we are and where we come from.  This feeling of security and comfort is important to both adults and children.  Family traditions also help build and strengthen the bond with your family, especially children.  Whether elaborate or simple, a shared tradition becomes special family time.  And family time is very important. Lives have become increasingly complex and fast paced.  In “Celebrating as Families” by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the author states that our complicated lives have left many people feeling stressed, depressed and isolated.  Some experts have suggested that traditions are the keys to bringing continuity to our lives and connecting us to our past and present.  Families who celebrate together are healthier and better able to meet the challenges of everyday living. 

What are your favorite family traditions?   In our family, one of our traditions is decorating our Christmas tree the weekend following Thanksgiving.  We wait until all family members can be present.  As our kids have gotten older, this has become a little tricky but it’s important that everyone be present.  Another tradition is purchasing dated Christmas ornaments.  Everyone picks out an ornament that symbolizes something important that has happened during the year.  We have ornaments that signify first day of school, Boy Scout camp outs, softball tournaments, acquiring drivers’ license, high school graduation, first apartment - the list goes on.  Both kids know their ornaments and insist on hanging them on the tree themselves…and they are now young adults!  Hanging stockings, putting up decorations inside and out, preparing and eating special foods, driving to look at outdoor holiday decorations, eating hamburgers on Christmas Eve and attending special religious services are just a few other Brazeal family traditions. Try to list your family traditions, even the simple ones.  You will probably be surprised at how many traditions you have and how much you might miss them if, for some reason, they were not celebrated. 

No matter what your traditions, make sure that they are still valued by family members.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, traditions may no longer have the same meaning.  For example, some families enjoy baking, decorating and giving cookies as gifts.  As children grow older, time schedules may not allow this.  So, instead of making homemade cookies to decorate, modify your tradition by purchasing cookie dough to bake or ready-to-eat plain deli cookies.  You still will be spending time with your family when you are decorating the cookies. In time, however, this tradition may become more of a chore than the enjoyable event that it is designed to be.  If so, give yourself permission to develop a new family tradition to take its place. How do you know if a tradition is no longer enjoyable?  Ask your family members which activities mean the most to them.   

But what do you do about traditions when you are in a new family situation?  In the case of remarriages, new traditions need to be established.  Ohio State University Extension’s “Family Tapestries” series discusses this topic.  If new marriages are to succeed, couples must realize that remarriage is different from a first marriage.  Of the many topics that need to be discussed, establishing new family traditions is a priority.  When two families come together, it’s hard not to feel that one way of doing something is right and any other way is wrong.  Families need to compare notes about traditions and recognize that each person’s preferences are just different, not better or worse.  Starting new traditions or combining traditions from both households to meet everyone’s needs can enrich and strengthen the new family. 

Family traditions.  They are as unique as your family and bring special meaning to the holiday season.  As this holiday season unfolds, make sure that you are celebrating the traditions that are most important to your family.  Establish new traditions if needed. Enjoy the tradition, but, more importantly, enjoy your time together as a family.  That’s what makes the holidays and traditions special.  

Carrie T. Brazeal is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for Texas A&M  AgriLife Extension Service - Collin County. She may be reached at or 972-424-1460, Ext. 4233

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