Mindfully Creating Family Traditions

Posted on Dec 14, 2010 in Featured, Parenting | 20 comments

When we first got together in our mid-twenties, we (and our friends) were in the habit of celebrating about 3 holidays: Thanksgiving (big potluck), Halloween (costume parties) and Christmas. Beyond the required family Christmas, we also often did things with our friends, especially during the years when I had no family close by (potluck dinners, staff parties, secret Santa gift exchanges).

When we had kids, it became more fun to revisit old traditions and holidays that had fallen by the wayside. Over the years we’ve added more and more (starting with Easter), and in the last year we decided to make a specific effort to focus on traditions and festivals in a mindful way.


This decision was precipitated by some of the things we learned about Waldorf school when we began to investigate Rain’s options for Kindergarten earlier this year. According to Waldorf educational philosophy, rhythm is an important aspect of human life:

When more people depended directly upon nature for their living, their lives were, of necessity, more rhythmic. They recognized that the rhythms of their days, their weeks, and even the seasons of the year supported them by yielding to them what they needed to live.

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – Nurturing our Children From Birth to Seven

For young children marking the seasons and festivals throughout the year is an important way to incorporate rhythm into their lives. This becomes increasingly important as we live in a society that is more and more cut off from the natural world. Though we chose not to pursue Waldorf education, the focus on rhythm throughout the year has enriched our family and homeschool life. We’ve made this a priority year round, but today I will just mention a couple that come to mind immediately.


One of our cherished birthday traditions began the day my oldest was born. We had made a blueberry pie to cook during our homebirth with the intention of sharing it with our midwives before they went home. Rain was born at 7:00 am. Every year, my husband takes the morning off work so that we can begin Rain’s birthday with blueberry pie for breakfast.

Dad puts a different shape on the top of the pie every year.

Dad puts a different shape on the top of the pie every year.

Valentine’s Day

Two years ago, I made a deliberate decision to start celebrating Valentine’s Day with my then 3.5 year old son.  It was a reaction against the glut of commercial, trademarked characters (Dora, Spiderman, Sponge Bob, etc.) on store bought, throw away cards that was coming home from preschool. It was a reaction against the fact that cartoons aimed at children seem to often contain love interests when 4 and 5 year olds don’t need to be obsessed with having a girlfriend or boyfriend. It was even a reaction against all the people who hate Valentine’s Day for the way it makes single people feel and for the fact that it is so commercialized.  I thought that at least while Rain is young I would like to teach him that Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to tell or show people in your life that they are special to you, whether that’s a good friend or a family member or your mate. I also wanted him to understand that Valentine’s Day can be about chocolate and cards but that it can also be about a thoughtful gift, or ideally using creativity and imagination.

Rather than buy cards for his friends, we gave out pictures of Rain. We also celebrate as a family: heart shaped pancakes for breakfast or making jam sweetheart cookies together. We’ve also done things like hang dozens of hearts from the ceiling on strings or leave a trail of hearts on the floor leading to a hiding spot with a gift.

Hearts hanging from the ceiling

Hearts hanging from the ceiling


Christmas can be pretty tricky to work out as a couple. We have had to figure out how to incorporate each of our individual traditions to try to create a meaningful holiday for our kids. Thankfully, Santa didn’t figure too prominently for either of our families so we don’t really do Santa for our kids (other than as a fun story). We start running into trouble when it comes to present opening. My family is Mennonite and we follow the eastern European tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve. We usually went to an early church service, came home to a yummy meal, candle light, Christmas lights and spent a quiet evening opening presents and devouring Christmas baking. This often went late at night so the next morning we would all sleep in before finding our stockings on the end of our beds. I loved the cozy darkness, twinkling lights and calm of opening gifts at night. As an adult, I love avoiding the ungodly early rising of kids who are too excited about presents.

My husband’s family practiced the more North American style Christmas on Christmas morning and after 8 years of marriage, we still haven’t been able to figure out what we should do with our kids. As a result we do about half and half with no rhyme or reason. I imagine we’ll figure it out eventually. In the mean time, we’ve tried to come up with our own unique traditions including a homemade advent calendar, switching to cloth wrapping rather than paper, watching A Christmas Story every year and more recently buying presents according to the little rhyme: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

Overall, I think that it’s probably a work in progress. We’ll try out ideas and some won’t feel right for our family. Others will resonate with us and probably start happening year after year. Our kids are still young (and we’re still waiting for one to arrive). I look forward to watching how their input shapes our traditions and holiday celebrations over the years. Years from now, we will all have played a part in the activities and festivals that are the fabric of our cherished memories. And I am so glad that we made the decision to put more effort into marking more holidays throughout the year.

What holidays stand out for your family? Did your traditions come about naturally or were you mindful of how your family created them?

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.
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  1. I totally agree about the importance of rhythm and marking the passage of the seasons.

    I’d never heard “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read” but I think that’s a wonderful way to both vary the type and limit the number of gifts given. I think I may adopt this strategy for my son! Thank you!
    Twitter: anktangle

    • Amy, I only just heard about that little rhyme last year and I immediately loved it. I agree about limiting the number of gifts but I also liked that it strikes a balance between the frivolous and the practical for gift giving.

  2. I really enjoyed reading about your birthday and Valentine’s Day traditions! What lovely ways to go about those two hallmarks. . . I especially liked your approach to teach your son that Valentines Day is about love- pure and simple. It’s about celebrating people you care about and people who care about you – that’s what I’ve always felt – and the whole commercialization of it has always astounded me. I’m right there with you on the dora, batman, and sponge-bob cards! I mean, what an awful use for so many trees! Ick. Great idea, giving pictures instead! Thanks for writing!!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Always Ready Holiday Style =-.

    • Exactly right about the trees – that’s why we even skip homemade cards as they still end up in the trash in the end.

      Your comment made me realize that all three of the holidays I’ve listed birthday, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas, are really about people aren’t they? As long as we remember that, they end up being pretty awesome!

  3. Your ideas are all wonderful! I really like that you’re claiming some family fun in Valentine’s Day – you’re right – it is such a consumer-driven holiday, one we rarely take much note of (other than the fact that Tom and I had our first date on Feb. 15 – so we’re usually celebrating that instead).
    And that advent calendar is adorable!! I’ve been thinking about doing some kind of calendar (maybe even one we can use year round), those pieces make it “generic” enough that we could use it all year . . . maybe I could just figure out how to change the background. Is it just a magnet board? Velcro? So cute!
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..Acupuncture for Fertility =-.
    Twitter: CodeNameMama

    • Thanks Dionna. The calendar pieces are magnetic and the board is a cookie sheet. This is the year round one we made to use for homeschooling: http://bluebirdmama.com/2010/10/perpetual-calendar/

      It uses magnets on the fridge. (printable magnetic sheets from Staples, scrapbook paper and clear printable labels).

  4. Lots of wonderful ideas, thanks for the inspiration. Have you read my piece on Rhythm and Routine? Might be of interest to you!
    .-= Lucy @ dreamingaloudnet´s last blog ..Craft-Tea Christmas Celebrations =-.

    • I look forward to checking out your post Lucy. Thanks!

  5. Your traditions really resonate with me (and I love your advent calendar!), especially the Valentine’s Day ones. Right now we have painted and glittery cardboard stars hanging from our ceiling for Christmas and it makes such a magical atmosphere. Your rhyme is great too. I am pleased with myself that without knowing your rhyme beforehand that is what we have accomplished for the kid’s presents this year too!
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Emerging Family Traditions =-.
    Twitter: bfmom

    • Ooh glittery stars on the ceiling – what a great idea!

  6. I love the idea of blueberry pie for Rain’s birthday breakfast. What a fun memory! And I agree with you that Valentine’s Day should be fun and joyful for everyone, as it traditionally was, not just a lovers’ holiday.

    That Advent calendar is to die for. I love your perpetual calendar, too. Great idea!

    I had never heard a description of opening gifts on Christmas Eve like yours. You’re tempting me to try that out! It sounds magical.
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..December Carnival of Natural Parenting- Taking a childs perspective on traditions =-.
    Twitter: Hobo_Mama

    • Thank you Lauren.

      If you can believe it, I was in my twenties before I had the experience of only opening gifts on Christmas morning and I found it so odd to be doing it by daylight, rather than candlelight.

      Oh yeah, I also left out of my description that we ALWAYS listened to the Boney M Christmas album while opening presents. That was my mom, not a European custom as far as I know. 🙂

  7. I like the Valentine’s Day traditions. That is how I celebrate the day as well, as my husband loathes Valentine’s Day (he feels it’s commercialized and is trying to “force him to be romantic”). So I turn to others I know, particularly single, sad, or lonely people.
    .-= Sheila´s last blog ..No- Virginia- there is not a Santa Claus =-.

  8. Your tradition of opening presents by candlelight sounds a lot like Witchmom’s description of her Solstice celebration – staying up all night celebrating, feasting and exchanging gifts with lots of candles and light. I think it sounds lovely. 🙂

    I’ve also heard another rhyme for gift giving recently: something to play with, something to wear, something to read and something to share.
    .-= Michelle @ The Parent Vortex´s last blog ..Simple Family Advent Traditions =-.
    Twitter: TheParentVortex

  9. I think the major holiday celebrations came pretty naturally. Christmas, Easter, Halloween, all of the ones with lots of familiar rituals. But I’ve been working to build some other rituals throughout the year as well. This year we celebrated Michaelmas. I’m trying to hold off on Christmas as we move through Advent. And I’m intrigued by the idea of Candlemas.

    I think children really thrive on ritual, and so I’m trying to build more of it into our lives.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Capturing Moments =-.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

    • I may be the only guy on here–and I guess I’m a sentimental one at that…’cause I love the thought all of you have been giving to putting real meaning back into the holidays. I’ve printed out some of your ideas and hope to try them out.

      On Amber’s comment about Advent: I like to keep the Advent season (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) as serene, reverent and uncluttered as possible. So, in our ‘new’ tradition, the holiday season actually begins with All Saints Day (Nov 1).

      Once the halloween decorations have come down, we spend the next three weeks doing “fall” housecleaning (to get things spic ‘n span for the impending arrival of Jesus into the holy sanctuary of our home), Christmas shopping, and decorating for Christmas. But that all is timed to end the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the big day when we get together with family and friends to enjoy fun, football, and feasting–but especially we take time to express thanks to our loved ones for their kindness and friendship throughout the year.

      The next day, Friday, for the socially inclined, is a chance for one final hurrah before Advent begins on Sunday (sort of akin to Fat Tuesday before Lent).

      The four week period of Advent is taken seriously. Cookies are baked, the tree is trimmed, the Advent calendars are kept, and so on. But mostly it is a time of increased religious awareness, singing of carols, and deliberately refraining from excesses of all kinds.

      Our Christmas season draws to a poignant end after the 12 Days of Christmas (Jan 6).
      Twitter: NMWAY

      • My main point, in case I didn’t make it clear, is that, according to our family tradition, the Christmas gifts should all be bought or made, and wrapped, before Thanksgiving, not beginning afterwards (as is the mainstream custom these days). The same applies to complicated lighting and decorations.

        The primary point is that November is the busy, hectic month, not December. Advent (which theoretically is supposed to be a period of fasting and prayer) should never be a time of stress and chaos. Nor should it be a time for shopping, office parties, etc.

        (Oh, and I like the idea of Candlemas, too, Amber).
        Twitter: NMWAY

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