While decorating our home for the holidays, I am reminded of the importance of family tradition and ritual. As my children unpack the ornaments for our Christmas tree, I yelp the all-too-familiar, "Be careful with that one!" and "Handle that one gently!" as I grasp for the falling glass items. Of course, my attempts to prevent an ornament fatality fail several times. And with each accidental shatter I sentimentally remember the history that went along with the piece—the piece that will now end its chronicle in the kitchen waste can.
Thankfully, many ornaments do make it to the tree, and each one has its own special story attached to it. The small fabric candy canes stuffed with cotton balls that my mother and I sewed one Saturday when I was six years old. The pink baby booties signifying my daughter's first Christmas. The wooden clothespin soldiers, which my sister and I painted in our Brownie Troop 25 years ago. And the angel, whose lights blew out long ago, but is still destined for the top of the tree. Hanging these relics is a part of the Christmas traditions I have been reenacting for many, many years. Now, each time that I recount the stories behind the ornaments with my children, I am doing my part in creating their traditions and rituals. As always, I begin to think about what my children will learn from this annual event.
The greatest benefit of tradition for our children is the importance of history and relationships in our lives. As parents, we are role models. Our children imitate our actions, beliefs, and thoughts. When we look back on happy times with our families or recreate an experience we shared with our parents, it teaches them to appreciate life's simple times and look for those special moments in their own lives. It helps us also develop their relationships with and memories of family members who are not close by or who have left us.
When my father died two years ago, my greatest source of grief was the fact that my children would never know him as I had known him. Their lives would be deprived of being touched by a man who had made such a positive impression on my own life. Yet describing to them how my father used to tie the tree to the windowpane to keep it standing straight, or hanging his favorite ornament on my tree, seems to bring him back to life not only for me but in the minds of my children as well. I now have come to realize that he will touch their lives through the stories I tell them each time we celebrate one of my family's traditions or rituals.