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Establishing and prioritizing your very own family traditions




September 26, 2023

From social obligations to endless to-do lists, the holidays can be quite chaotic. And as much as we may want them to be warm and fuzzy, the demands of the season can oftentimes leave us feeling grumpy and overwhelmed. 

That’s why your friends at Bend are here to help you put together a game plan for this holiday season so that you and your family can minimize the madness and prioritize what really matters to you the most. 

Why family traditions matter 

Did you have a special holiday tradition as a child? How did it make you feel? One of the best ways to connect with one another is by establishing your very own family traditions. And the best news? It’s never too late to get started! Whether you want to ramp up long-standing traditions you’ve been doing for years or you’re looking for something new, we’ve got you covered. 

But what is a family tradition? Well, it’s basically whatever you want it to be! Remember that there are no right or wrong answers here. A family tradition is any activity or behavior that reflects your family’s values or beliefs. Some traditions may have symbolic or religious significance, and some may not. They can be as extravagant or as simple as you wish. 

Traditions are a great way to help everyone connect, feel grounded , and build your unique family culture. And once you’ve established your family traditions, they can be passed down from generation to generation. Everyone is welcome too — traditions can include blended families, extended family, members of the community, or friends. 

How to establish your family values

The holidays are a perfect time to come together as a family and focus on what really matters to you. But you may be saying to yourself, “Well, I know what matters to me, but I’m not sure about what my family values as a whole.” That’s okay! That’s why it can be helpful to establish your family values so that you can then introduce traditions that everyone can feel good about. 

Values are internal motivators that guide our behaviors and help form our attitudes. If you can identify your family’s values, it will make it easier to make decisions and behave in a way that aligns with those values. 

Establishing your family values together can be a great way to connect and get on the same page with everyone in your household. You can think about values like a tree you plant to anchor yourselves as you navigate life. One fun way to get started is by creating a family values tree. Here are the steps:  

  • Grab a pen and paper (bring any additional art supplies you’d like to really jazz things up!).

  • Draw a tree and label these four categories as branches (or sections) of the tree: 

    1) Work/education:
    What is most important to you all when it comes to work, learning, and other fulfilling activities? 

    2) Personal growth/health:
    What do you each value when it comes to your well-being and health? This can include religious/spiritual practices, wellness activities, giving back, creativity, nutrition, or exercise.

    3) Leisure/rest and relaxation:
    How much time and space do you want to make for leisure time? What do you need to make it happen? 

    4) Relationships:
    What are your priorities when it comes to fostering healthy connections? This can include friendships, family time, building community, romantic or platonic partnerships, etc.

  • Read through the sections and think of different values that are important to you all. Give everyone a turn to share, without interrupting, and write down the words or phrases that come to mind for each section or “branch” on the tree.

  • Now that you better understand your collective values, take some time to discuss if you’re making decisions that align with your values. If you’re not, brainstorm a few small changes you can make as a family. And don’t forget to celebrate areas where you’re working together as a team to show up for your shared values. 

Once you have your values established, it will be much easier to plan meaningful traditions. Remember, every family is different, so what works for one family might not work for yours. That’s why it’s important to create a plan tailored for the people in your family. 

Managing complicated family dynamics 

While we want them to be nothing but merry and bright, you likely know that the holidays can bring up some challenging family dynamics. As you work to discover your own family values, know that they may not always align with those of your extended family or other people you may surround yourself with throughout the season.

Whether it be politics, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, body image, or other potentially polarizing topics, here are some ways to respectively, yet directly, protect and advocate for your family’s values: 

  • Make your home a safe haven. Get on the same page as a family that your home is a place where everyone can feel safe and accepted for who they are. 
  • Prepare as a family if you plan to spend time with people who directly conflict with or challenge your family values. Come up with a game plan so that everyone feels secure and comfortable. 
  • Listen and encourage open, honest conversations within your family. Show up for your child by listening respectfully to what they have to say without interrupting, shaming, or judging them. Validate their experience and emotions rather than downplaying what they are going through or offering immediate solutions.
  • It’s okay to set clear boundaries with those around you. For example, if you have an aunt who likes to comment on other people’s weight, talk to your child before a family get-together and connect using body positive language. And consider saying something privately to this family member like, “Aunt Sue, body positivity is one of our family values and we refrain from discussing weight in front of our children. Did you know research shows that this type of commentary can be really damaging to kids and teens?” 
  • If your boundaries are not respected, it is okay to remove yourself and your child from the situation. 
  • Teach empathy and make it a household rule that treating other people with respect is non-negotiable. 

Creating your family traditions

Once you have determined your family values, you can start to think about a few traditions that you want to try out this holiday season. It’s okay if it looks messy at first! You may need time to try things out and make traditions your own. Here are some traditions you can try to bring your family together:

  • When preparing for a special holiday meal, ask each family member to choose one favorite food item to include and prepare the dishes together. 
  • During a holiday meal, go around the table and ask everyone to share something that they’re thankful for. 
  • Have each member of the family draw the name of another member and make a handmade gift for that person.
  • Start a gratitude jar by writing down and sharing what each of you feel grateful for. You can pull from the jar and reflect on each entry together. 
  • Do a crafty activity as a family — create a gingerbread house, decorate ornaments, design a tablescape made from objects found in nature, string garland, or design cards to send to loved ones. 
  • Choose a special story to read or a movie to watch together. 
  • Make a family scrapbook by combining mementos, photos, notes, ticket stubs or anything else that brings special memories together. 
  • Have a family game night. 
  • Put together a playlist and bond over your favorite jams while decorating the house. Bonus points for including special drinks like hot cocoa. 
  • Do you all love animals or care about the environment? Volunteer with an organization that aligns with your family values.
  • Take time to honor loved ones who have passed away. This is a great opportunity to bring out family photo albums and share stories of your ancestors. 
  • Visit a loved one who isn’t able to leave their home and bring a small gift like baked goods or a handmade card.
  • Do a digital detox together by putting away phones and all electronic devices for a set period of time. 
  • Take a nature walk together. 
  • Take time to talk about resolutions or goals for the year ahead. You can even make a “time capsule” that you agree to open together the following year, giving you a chance to reflect on and appreciate the passage of time together. 

It’s not always easy to keep family traditions going so try to get input from the entire family and start simple. You want to make sure that you can set aside the proper time to follow through and ensure that everyone feels recognized and included. 

By establishing your own family traditions, you’ll help yourself and those around you feel more grounded, accepted and secure in the family. The holidays can be jam-packed with overwhelming obligations and heightened expectations, so try to tap into your traditions to connect with one another and focus on what matters most to you. Bend is here to support you along the way.