Life with kids is hectic. Many busy parents focus on day-to-day tasks and lose sight of creating small but meaningful moments for family members. When it comes to family traditions, you don’t have to spend big dollars or center them all around holidays. There are several reasons why family traditions are important.
5 Reasons Family Traditions Matter
- Provide Comfort and Belonging
- Help Children Connect to Their Heritage
- Reinforce Family Values
- Create Lasting Memories
- Build Strong Family Bonds
Even simple family rituals can have a big impact. You don’t have to wait for momentous occasions. Think about how to incorporate family traditions into everyday life. You can have daily, weekly, and monthly traditions, along with family customs that honor seasons, holidays, and milestones, too.
Let’s face it: Parenting is tough. There are a lot of things competing for your time and attention. The same is true for your children, especially as they get older. Family traditions allow you to pause and reconnect with your loved ones. They are some of the moments that make life as a family worthwhile.
Provide Comfort and Belonging
If you’ve ever watched the daily news, you might assume the world is a dangerous, hard place. Imagine how those types of negative messages can feel to a child. But you can’t shield your kids from every difficulty in life. In fact, the older they get, the less you can protect them from being exposed to life’s pitfalls and challenges.
So what can parents do to counter the pressure and noise of the world? Introduce meaningful family traditions into your life. Consider small activities, like sharing daily happenings that make you glad or grateful at dinner time. Or write an inspirational quote on a whiteboard on your refrigerator. Practices like these help your family stay focused on the good, no matter what storms life may send your way.
For young children, telling bedtime stories is a ritual that can provide comfort at bedtime. Notes tucked into lunchboxes can make school-age children feel connected to home.
When children enter adolescence, they become preoccupied with peers and acceptance. It’s a turbulent passage, and a time when many kids start to feel insecure. Family traditions can remind them that they have a place to belong, no matter what.
Help Children Connect to Their Heritage
One of the beautiful things about family traditions is that they can endure for generations. For example, many families use a relative’s favorite cookie recipe every holiday season. When you make those special cookies with your children, you can share memories of beloved people in your life from your own growing up years. This discussion can help children feel rooted and connected to their history.
This example is just one of the many ways that parents can use family traditions to help children feel connected to their roots. You may have a strong sense of cultural heritage or national identity. Cooking dishes, telling stories, or attending events tied to your heritage helps your children understand how the past shapes them today.
It's important for children to take pride in the unique components that make up their identity. Family traditions that convey your heritage can accomplish this goal. And remember, a child may carry on traditions you start today and share them with future generations.
Reinforce Family Values
Every family has a value system. As a parent, it’s important to think about what family values you want to uphold and share with your children. Do you want your children to have a strong spiritual life/foundation? Do you want them to be community contributors?
The traditions you choose can convey your family’s values to your children. By attending weekly worship services with your entire family, you teach your children that spirituality is important. If your family volunteers together, you show children that you value helping others.
Spend some time reflecting on your family values. Remember that family rituals and traditions can change as your family life evolves, but your values can stay steadfast. You can also consider a family culture assessment to help identify your values and adopt traditions that embody them. For families with major hardships or considerable family problems a more formalized family assessment by a professional may be required.
Create Lasting Memories
As parents, it’s easy to compare ourselves to others and wonder if we are falling short. Social media has made this tendency to make comparisons even worse. Many people feel a “fear of missing out”—or FOMO—when they see other families participating in events or going on vacations together.
Here's the truth: You don’t need to take an expensive Disney vacation or to rent a beach house at a resort to make your children’s lives special. Your own simple, personal family traditions can be memorable. Don’t assume that people’s curated image on social media makes their families any more worthy than yours.
Having small, meaningful traditions throughout the year can be just as memorable as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. For example, picnicking together in the same spot every summer can be something your family treasures. Everyone can look forward to a monthly game and pizza night. You don’t even need to leave your home to have a special experience with your family.
Instead of spending thousands of dollars on peak experiences and showing them off on social media, look for ways to do simple things that have a big impact. Your children may not always appreciate the full value of these small things when they’re young. But the sense of connection and tradition they’ll feel will endure for the rest of their lives. They’ll remember laughter, smiles, and silliness of family times, no matter when and where they happen.
This doesn’t mean that vacations and adventures don’t have value. If you like to visit the same beach or city every year, go for it. Or if you’ve long dreamed of seeing famous monuments or taking in a game at a legendary stadium, make it happen. Just don’t put all your energy into those major experiences and neglect the value of everyday traditions that build family closeness. And be wise about not going into financial debt trying to keep up with the Joneses. That stress can do more to hurt your family culture than any one trip can do to strengthen it.
Build Strong Family Bonds
Strong families can be a source of strength through all of life’s transitions and trials. Every time you pause to enjoy time together, you can deepen the sense of companionship, trust, and love in your family unit. Family traditions can give you those moments of pause in the hectic pace of everyday life.
Your family traditions can help your children build bonds with extended family as well. If you visit a relative’s home every Thanksgiving or have regular family reunions, your children can get to know other family members. As the years go by, these relatives can be sources of support and guidance to your children in ways that you often couldn’t predict.
40 Family Tradition Ideas
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to family traditions. There are many great traditions and rituals that you can adopt from other families. Look over this list of 40 family traditions ideas below, then discuss your favorites with your family, or brainstorm to come up with some of your own.
- Make sure everyone has coins in their pocket at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Some people believe this ritual helps ensure prosperity the whole year through.
- Give every family member a mini box of chocolates on Valentine’s day.
- Put fresh flowers in everyone’s room to celebrate the first day of spring.
- Write poems on family birthday gifts and have the recipient guess what they are before opening them.
- Have everyone wear red-white-and-blue glow stick necklaces on the fourth of July. Yes, that includes adults and teens! Snap an annual photo.
- Create a family chant or song. You can use a well-known chant or tune as a foundation and change the words to suit your family. Use the cheer every time a family member accomplishes something—from getting praise at school to doing well in a sports event to achieving a big milestone.
- Pick a favorite charity or community organization and volunteer there together once a quarter.
- Honor a holiday from a culture that is not your own. For example, you could celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the Spring or St. Nicholas Day in early December. This ritual can help children expand their knowledge of the world.
- Visit a pumpkin patch or apple orchard in Autumn. None nearby? No worries! Pick up some apples at the store to make homemade caramel apples every September.
- Have a favorite college or professional sports team? Consider an opening day ritual or have your own at-home “tailgates” before big games each season. Be sure to wear your team’s colors!
- Gather family recipes and cook them together. Find some simple treats or dishes that little ones can help make. Holiday cookies are always a good choice.
- Have a space in your home to remember loved ones who have passed away. A display of photos and possibly a candle is all you need for a nice family memorial. A family get together to light the candle on birthdays or other special days. A battery-powered candle is a good choice if you have little ones. Don’t forget to include pets.
- Select a designated night of the week for family time. Keep your calendar free. Have dinner together and turn off the electronics. Play games, tell stories, or do whatever brings meaning and joy to your family.
- Let everyone have cake for breakfast on their birthdays! Yes, it’s an indulgence. But it’s also one of the most special occasions of the year.
- Pick a favorite local spot and picnic there every summer. You don’t have to travel far. A nearby park, playground, lake, or river is perfect.
- Always stop for snacks before you go on a road trip. Let everyone pick one salty snack, one sweet snack, and a drink. And create your own family road trip playlist. Be sure to include everyone’s favorite songs.
Give handwritten notes of encouragement to anyone facing a challenge. For kids, this may be a test or a team tryout. Remember that adults need encouragement too.
- Make sure everyone gets at least one hug each day.
- Devise secret signs that hold meaning for your family. Make up a family handshake or use hand gestures that say I love you. Use them for greetings, goodbyes, or any time a family member needs a little pick me up.
- Pick a few important events and attend as a family each year. These events can include special worship services, charitable functions, or community celebrations.
- Teach your children the importance of participation in the democratic process by voting every year. Bring them with you to the polls whenever possible. Wear your “I voted” sticker with pride and tell your children what it means.
- Designate a space in your home as your family “happy wall.” Let family members add favorite photos or things that make them proud. You may find your children wanting to add good report cards or certificates. Adults can add notes of thanks or praise from others. You can find garlands with photo clips in stores or create your own to make the perfect happy wall.
- Celebrate fun occasions such as National Donut Day or National Ice Cream Day. As a bonus, popular food chains often offer free or discounted products on those days!
- Mark the full moon by spending time outdoors. Go for moonlit walks in warm months, or just step outside and gaze at the sky when the weather is cool. Use this ritual as a way to admire the magnificence of nature and to reflect on the importance of sharing your light with the world.
Wake up your family’s biggest sleepyhead on Saturday mornings. After everyone else is awake, gather and go into the last sleeper’s room. Sing silly songs to rouse him or her. This fun tradition is a great way to get everyone up and ready for the day’s activities on lazy weekends.
- Mark important passages in each child’s life with a ritual. For example, you could take a soon-to-be kindergartner shopping for a backpack before school starts. Or have a family campout (even in the backyard) each time a family member turns 8.
- Have the same breakfast on a holiday morning, year after year. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just consistent. You can make a French toast casserole the night before and pop it into the oven in the morning. Or go no-fuss with fruit and toast with jelly.
- During winter—especially on any snow days—have hot chocolate with marshmallows as a family!
- Hold family meetings. Set aside a time for the entire family to discuss upcoming events and any areas of concern. You may need to hold weekly meetings to keep your family on track. Or a monthly meeting may work well.
- Keep a whiteboard on your refrigerator. Write new inspirational quotes on it each week.
- Have an “out with the old, in with the new” tradition. For gift-giving occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas, have family members donate as many unwanted items as they receive. This tradition helps everyone focus on keeping life simple instead of accumulating material goods.
- Schedule regular one-on-one outings with mom and/or dad. Some girls enjoy monthly daddy-daughter “dates” with dad, and sons get alone time with mom. Let the child suggest ideas for this special time together.
- Make time capsules. Have kids select items that represent current interests and write notes to their future selves. Pick a future date for opening the capsule—maybe five or ten years later.
- Spend at least one summer evening catching fireflies and drinking lemonade.
- Know your family’s history and heritage and find ways to commemorate it. Every family is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Maybe it means honoring Veteran’s day or attending a cultural festival each year.
- Do group activities that every family member can enjoy a few times each year. Bowling or mini-golf are good choices for all age groups. Or if your family shares a passion like skiing or ballroom dancing pursue those interests together.
- Have monthly family dance parties. Let family members take turns selecting a soundtrack for the evening’s festivities. Then dance your hearts out together.
- Each Sunday dinner, invite everyone to share a happy moment or reason to be grateful for every day.
- Ask family members to go through photos at the end of a season (or year) and select personal favorites. Compile the images into a “best of” digital album or printed memory book of special family moments. Make sure everyone can have their own copy as a keepsake.
- Have monthly family dinners at a favorite restaurant or weekly family walks around the neighborhood. Set aside Friday as family pizza and movie night. Do what works best for your family.
As you can see, family traditions can take all forms. Some take just minutes and require little preparation. Others may need some advance planning. Creating family traditions doesn’t need to add stress or complexity to your life. Keep things simple, but personal, and focus on strengthening the love and togetherness in your family. You’ll be surprised what a big impact little traditions can have.
When you’re starting a family, you may want to spend a little time reflecting on family traditions you want to continue from each of your own families. You can also consider new traditions you’d like to adopt to ensure you and your spouse remain family oriented throughout your lives. Consider different types of traditions to deepen family connection. You’ll want to think about daily traditions, yearly traditions, seasonal traditions, and others. The sooner you adopt a tradition and the more regularly you practice it, the more meaning and value it will have for your family.
Strengthen Your Family with Meaningful Traditions
A family is more than just adults and children who share the same household. Family is about shared bonds and values that give us meaning and identity. By focusing on family traditions, you can create a home environment filled with love. And that love can sustain your children as they grow and build their own lives in adulthood.
With traditions, you create a sense of belonging and reinforce the importance of family that is critical for all children. The world can feel confusing and disorienting to children at times. Peer relationships can be tricky, and even the most well-liked kids can feel uncomfortable in some social settings. The consistency of family traditions can provide children the comfort of knowing they always have a place where they are fully accepted and loved for who they are. This feeling of acceptance can anchor them through times of growth and change.
Traditions also help children connect to their heritage and family values. You can celebrate your family’s cultural identity, honor ancestors, and promote positive values to your children. With value-centered activities, you can cultivate a strong family identity that helps your children know they have a strong foundation for life.
Although you can have big traditions like annual vacations, don’t overlook the value of small traditions. Simple things like giving hugs and talking about the day’s high points at meal time can be special, too. Traditions that mark seasons and milestones can create positive memories and fortify family bonds. When you create and practice family traditions, your children may carry on those traditions in the future. In this way, you can influence your posterity for generations to come.
Remember, the traditions you choose don’t need to be rigid. Instead, they can evolve as your family changes. At first, you may have a bedtime story ritual for little family members. But as your children grow older, they may just prefer a hug before heading off to bed in the evening. Instead of losing touch with a bedtime ritual when children are older, ask them for family ideas that keep the tradition alive while honoring their emerging maturity. The routine and consistent moments of connection are what matter most. You can also have each family member take the love languages quiz and reshape traditions based on each person’s emotional needs.
You can start with the 40 tradition examples we’ve listed here and think about your own ideas. Since every family is unique, there are no right or wrong traditions. Start with your own core beliefs and value system and create rituals—big and small—that have meaning for your loved ones.