Holiday Traditions Make Memories for Kids

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

Ask children what their families do during the holidays and there are a chorus of answers of favorite holiday traditions. One might talk about how Grandma makes her pinwheel cookies that she only bakes during the holidays. Another might talk about the “Elf on a Shelf”, that comes to visit right after Thanksgiving in order to let Santa know who has truly been naughty and nice. Yet another could talk about helping to serve the homeless on Christmas Eve and then going to church.

All families have their own holiday traditions. Some of these traditions are ones that have been passed down for generations such as a particular food that is eaten or religious observances. Other traditions are relatively new and started in the family when the children were young such as, “The Elf on the Shelf” or watching a particular Christmas movie the first day of school break. Despite most families having holiday traditions such as these, many don’t think about what traditions provide for families and in particular, children.

Traditions are the ties that bind one generation to another and serve as a source of continuity. They contain the beliefs that a particular society and family value. Unfortunately many traditions have faded as society has been changing at an ever quickening rate. Holidays are one of the few places where traditions continue to hold sway, though this can be quickly eroded. Witness this year’s move of opening stores on Thanksgiving evening with many opening even prior to dinner. There were several stories about how families’ dinner traditions were interrupted and likely forever changed by the new store hours.

While change is inevitable, it is still important to retain family traditions around the holidays. Children will make family traditions part of who they are and something they will hold onto when they become adults and have families of their own. It is something that parents will be able to pass on to future generations.

Another reason to have family holiday traditions is that it helps children form their own special memories. When children are very young, they have to have a structure from which to base their own memories. Until the structure is in place, children have a notoriously bad autobiographical memory. In fact, it is not until around three years old that children have personal memories. These personal memories often center on well-known activities. Traditions are the well-known activities of the holidays that children use as the framework from which they build their own memories that they can recall years later.

Take a moment to reflect on your own family’s traditions. Have your children and grandchildren right down what traditions they value and then make sure to continue those traditions as long as possible. It is quite likely that those traditions will continue on and form the basis of those cherished holiday memories that we all hold dear.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on December 22, 2013.

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