We were a bit behind this year, but we did it. Eventually we made the annual trip to the bookstore to cull the selection of holiday children’s literature and to pick our new Christmas books. Our family library for this micro-genre is in the triple digits. We read favorites by the tree or at the kitchen table all month-long. It’s one of those traditions that I hope we never outgrow. I’ve also still got the fragile, red felt ornament that Mrs. Heinz made for me in Kindergarten, c. 1972, along with a box of ornaments that my mother and grandmother gave me every year until I was old enough to have my own tree. My kids have their own boxes of ornaments they are given each year. As we hang them, we retell the story behind each ornament. It often takes us a full week to decorate the tree in a format we call “grazing.” It’s leisurely, indulgent, and is part of the glue that holds us together.
December is the month for rituals and traditions. No matter what your holiday(s) or beliefs may be, if you have children, you have some traditions and rituals that you hone and perhaps hone as the years go by. This memory making will stay with your child for years to come and not just at the holidays, and much of the memories your child will hold will be of the time spent with you.
Rituals and traditions serve to anchor us to our culture and family. They become familiar and welcomed, especially as our role expands or our memory and anticipation make those traditions richer. As a teacher who has the privilege of watching children savor the traditions of our school (holiday performances, deliberate sharing of individual family traditions) and their own families, it’s still remarkable to me how much these traditions mean to children and how eloquently they can speak of what these mean to them. Similarly, my own children are old enough now that they have nearly a decade of holiday memories – some of which they hold fast had firm to and others, which they scoff at in their adolescent way, but eventually then come back to participate. Despite the heavy marketing of merchandise this time of year, what children speak most of is the time and activities they engage in with family and friends.
The rituals and traditions that mean the most to all children seem to emanate from being truly present, not the type and amount of presents. I hear children speak of time spent with parents and extended family, “artifacts” and objects, which symbol their beliefs and traditions and the memories associated with them. For many children, this is a time to revisit favorite literature or movies, assist with decorating or baking, or to take a step forward to take on new responsibilities. None of these are possible in isolation and are made truly memorable by the inherent companionship of family and friends.
So amidst the zillions of tasks and errands and responsibilities on your list this time of year, consider what traditions you share with your family. What rituals do you fully engage in to build those memories with and for your child? Rededicate yourself to being fully present for those happening week or consider starting a new tradition or new begin a journal about what traditions your family shares at this special time of year. If you take the time to honor it now and in the years to come, you’ll surely help to build memories that anchor your child in the beliefs and priorities you seek to instill in them – and you’ll probably have a darn good time in the process!