How to Establish Family Holiday Traditions

When you're a newlywed, or a young family, just starting out on your life's journey together, the thought of establishing your own family holiday traditions can bring up feelings of both trepidation and excitement. Which holiday traditions will each of you bring from your own family background? Which will you create fresh that will become a hallmark of your family's memories for generations to come? How do you graciously excuse yourself from traditions where your presence is expected? Where do you begin? What is a family tradition?

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm defining a family traditions as...

an action or behavior which is entered into with goodwill and done
collectively as a family with enough repetition as to create stronger family unity.


Dreaming up ideas and beginning your own family holiday traditions is an exciting process that requires open and honest communication between you and your spouse. It may start as one conversation, but is really an ongoing discussion, revisited and reevaluated through the years. But you have to start somewhere, so begin by discussing what's important to each of you. You'll likely learn much about your spouse and his/her family in the process. If, for example, you were trying to decide what your family traditions centered around celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas might be, following are some important aspects to consider:

- Timing. Will your main celebration be on the actual holiday, or another day? Will you celebrate on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? I once knew a couple whose grown children were all married with families of their own, and they wanted to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their WHOLE family. However, they didn't want to cause friction between themselves and all the in-law families, so their family Thanksgiving was always the Saturday before the national holiday.

- Aspects. What aspects of a holiday celebration are the most important to you and your spouse? Is food paramount, or are you content with ordering the meal? Do you want to allocate most of your budget to presents, or will your gifts be small and sentimental? How much time and energy do both of you have, and how do you want to spend it?

- People. Who do you want to spend your holidays with? Will it be both of your families together? Family and friends? Immediate family only? Just the two of you?

- Faith/Sharing/Outreach. How will you practice or demonstrate your faith in your family traditions? Will sharing with others, or some form of outreach be a tradition in your family?

- Tone. What tone do you want your holidays to have? Are you a go-for-the-gusto, Clark Griswold type? Do you crave peace and minimalism? Maybe you want a "the more the merrier" tone and have a full house on holidays?

- Family Expectations. Its a guarantee that both of your families will have some expectation of your presence around the holidays. How will you spend time with them? How will you show them love while having your own traditions?

In all this discussion, be willing to compromise. When we had our first child, I was shocked to discover my husband had the expectation that she would receive ONE present for Christmas, because that's what he remembered from his childhood. I, on the other hand, had about ten presents under the tree each year, tagged as gifts for me from: Dad, Mom, grandparents, the dog, the cat, the turtle, etc. We've settled on a compromise of about four presents per child for our own family. Expect some give and take to be part of your discussion.


Maybe you've come from a family that didn't really celebrate much, or did not create traditions in the way that just makes your heart glow with yearning. Maybe you need some inspiration for ideas. Some of my favorite inspiration sources are:

- Family and friends. Ask them about their most meaningful traditions. Which family traditions do they celebrate that you have always admired? How can you borrow some of their ideas and make them your own? Growing up, we had family friends whose children always received new pajamas on Christmas Eve. I can't remember a time I didn't adore that thought, so we adopted it for our family and added a new book with the pajama gift, because tucking in on Christmas Eve with a new book AND new pajamas is so cozy!

- Blogs. Go back to the December postings of your favorite blogs to see what family traditions other have created.

- Pinterest.

- Instagram.

- Movies. What holiday movie scenes do you wish you could step right into? Why? Analyze what you love about that scene and create a new family holiday tradition from it.

- History and culture. Maybe it's something from Christmases past that you'd like to pull into your world. Roast chestnuts. Play charades. Go caroling to your neighbor's homes. Or maybe something from your family's cultural heritage can be incorporated into your holiday.


Remember our definition of a family tradition includes "done with enough repetition...", so there is an expectation of continuity. Consider how rigid or flexible your family traditions will be. Once your start a tradition, if the family wants it to continue FOREVER, you might want to start simple, or on a smaller scale. If your holiday traditions will be grand and/or elaborate, you may need willing helping hands and an investment in materials, e.g.: cloth tablecloths and napkins, a turkey roasting pan, etc.).

Have Fun

Finally, enjoy the traditions you establish, or change them until you do. And don't forget that some of the best traditions are ones that spring up spontaneously! Time, energy, and love lavished on your family is never wasted. Enjoying one another at the holidays is the best gift!

Sunday Drives and an Autumn Tailgate Lunch

"Let's go for a Sunday drive," were words often said by my dad when I was growing up, but are seldom said in our own family. But a couple times a year, we opt out of our usual, restful Sunday afternoons in favor of a drive, and we never regret it. It's especially welcome when we've all been super busy, working long hours, and we've passed each other by all week without any meaningful togetherness. (This happens when you're all adults in the household.) It's an opportunity to reconnect as the road stretches before us and conversation, the scenery, some good food, and time together become the priorities for the afternoon. At the end of September, we packed provisions to tailgate and headed north to drive the scenic Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

We drove for many miles along this famous highway (pronounced like: kank-uh-maw-gus), stopping at several scenic overlooks to take in the views. The surrounding mountains were just beginning to sport their autumn foliage -- this was late September and peak foliage was probably two weeks in the future. We breathed in the fresh air and squinted into the blinding sunlight to point out distant peaks. We studied maps, noted interesting berries, admired the way the light illumined the drying grasses, and chatted with a man who was launching a drone. We read historic markers, watched the autumn leaves fall, crossed a covered bridge, and teetered our way, rock by rock, through a stream.

All the fresh air and exercise gave us quite an appetite, and we were glad we'd planned to tailgate. We parked at the entrance to a fire road and set out our lunch -- just the three of us, surrounded by falling leaves, and tasty food.

Provisions for an Autumn Tailgate Party

assorted cheeses
assorted crackers
Italian breadsticks
ciabatta loaf and good butter
Effervé Pear Sparkling Lemonade
homemade apple crisp and Easy Apple Cider Caramel Sauce (recipe here)

Keeping with the same, no fuss, keep-it-simple plan I have for picnics, everything was store bought. I made a small amount of effort the day before in making the dessert. But really, I like to keep it simple on me, because if it becomes too much work to prepare, we won't tend to prioritize times like this, and they're just too valuable for family togetherness to skip. Plain and simple.

I'd love to hear what your favorite tailgating foods are? Do you tailgate just for sporting events, or just because? Do you have any great tailgaiting memories? Join the conversation by telling your story in the comments below! I'd love to hear!
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