Why do traditions matter? They're a key piece of a family's identity. Often by creating traditions, families become closer together as they do something that is unique to them.
Who should participate?
It's easy to extend existing family traditions into a new family. For example, when you get married, you often continue what your parents or your spouse's parents do. We feel that it's important to not just do that, but to also forge your own traditions that can enhance and strengthen your family and not just your extended family.
How should you decide what to do?
As is the case with all important decisions, it's important to make decisions about traditions together as a couple. You don't want to have one spouse or the other be frustrated or angry because they were railroaded on the decision. Make sure that you incorporate a combination of things that are from each of your existing families as well as new things that just your family does.
How many traditions?
Limit your "traditions." Not every little thing you do as a family should be considered tradition. For example, just because you usually have a roast beef on Sundays doesn't necessarily mean that that is a family tradition. Traditions are typically less frequent and more special, such as things you do on holidays or special occasions. Having too many traditions can make them less special, more easily forgotten, and confusing to family members. If you think of some new ones you would like to adopt, drop some old ones.
Traditions tend to be the best when they fit the spirit of the day you are celebrating. For example, a tradition of visiting the graves of some relatives with your family on Memorial Day followed by a barbeque is a great tradition, one of our favorites. Going into the desert and skeet shooting followed by a tailgate party is less effective, though it may very well be quite fun.
Don't get stuck on the small stuff
One of our family members is known around our family for her adherence to tradition, sometimes to the detriment of the actual event that we were celebrating. One Christmas at a family event, Rachelle made a different type of sweet potatoes than what we usually had (hers had walnuts on top). When she placed them on the table, suddenly a family member started twitching like something was the matter. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore.
"Where are the sweet potatoes?"
"They're right there."
"But those aren't right!"
"They're sweet potatoes, just like mom asked."
"But they're not OUR sweet potatoes. It's tradition!"
"I'm sorry, this is what we made."
She tasted a small portion but at one point only half-jokingly said "Thanks, you just ruined Christmas!" Needless to say, we have not been invited to bring sweet potatoes again.
Thus, instead of enjoying each other's company and celebrating the spirit of the Christmas season, we had to smooth over hurt feelings. Make your traditions bigger than just what you eat. Make them about who you gather with and what you do, not what the menu has to be or what everyone has to wear (unless your tradition involves some kind of Shakespearian festival, then that may be important).
Don't make traditions matter more than the people involved in them. They are supposed to bring you together, not tear you apart. If they're causing problems in your family, it may be time to think of some new traditions.