Creating Your Own Family Christmas Traditions

05/11/2014 15:30 | Updated 22 May 2015

Creating your own Christmas traditions

One of the things I was really looking forward to about having my own children, was the opportunity to create our own family Christmas traditions. This is because the Christmas of my childhood followed the same format every year, including knowing what time you could open your presents (in the morning from my parents, after the Queen's Christmas message from my grandparents), and it felt special being the same year after year, something I would like to do for my children.

Luckily for me, my husband is easy going. He's happy for me to introduce the 'traditions' that I want, and to more or less stick to them. Which is fortunate because I'd been saving a brilliant booklet that was produced by The Children's Society in 2008 called 'Batteries not included', that I had received as an insert in a newspaper.

Stemming from research that showed the best childhood memories were not down to material wealth but about spending time together, it offered loads of ideas for creating your own family rituals.

Two that struck me particularly were the ideas of buying pyjamas each year to give your children on Christmas eve as an extra present, so that they could go to bed and wait for Santa in new nightclothes, and the idea of buying them a bauble for the tree each year as a present so that when they leave home they could have a box of baubles for their own tree.

Whether our baubles make it through the years unbroken I don't know, but I know that we will have had lots of fun choosing them together each year.

John Johnston, 42, is originally from the UK and now living in Canada where he is step father to two children aged eight and six. For him, having a tradition that was carried on from his own childhood has played a key part in building traditions in his new home and with his new family.

"We have a set of dinner plates commissioned (and possibly designed) by my great-grandfather in about 1870. There are 12 beautiful plates that have their own box with little chamois leather pads between each. We use them once a year for Christmas pudding. Keeping the tradition going since my mother and father passed away has become very important to me.

"The only snag was the first time I got them out at Christmas with my new family and explained how old they were two guests were too terrified to touch them in case they broke one."

"Christmas traditions are important. Kids need to feel they belong and shared memories help reinforce that and helps them to develop their own sense of identity" says psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, an expert in play and parenting and Director of The Good Toy Guide.

She acknowledges however that when two people come together to form their own family, they both bring with them their own traditions that might not be compatible with each other, like those of Samantha, 28, from Bristol.

"We always opened our presents first thing in the morning but my partner had to wait until after breakfast, and we both wanted to continue this when we had children," she says.

In this case, says Gummer, it's about merging traditions: "You need to take the best of both and also respect other people's traditions because it's about who they are and where they come from and you don't want to criticise that."

That's what Samantha and her husband have done: "The first year we had Christmas together just us and our son we hadn't discussed that kind of thing and we both ended up feeling Christmas wasn't how it should be.

"But we discussed it afterwards and decided to make our own traditions. Now we open stockings as soon as we wake up and save the bigger presents for later on. And my partner and I have our very own tradition of saving one present for each other to open for after the kids are in bed."

For some families, breaking old traditions is as important as making new ones, and the two often go hand in hand. Lucy, 35, from London, was not allowed any television on Christmas Day when she was growing up. She's rebelled against this now Christmas Day is spent in her own home, with her sons aged two and five, and one of her new traditions is to buy DVDs that the whole family can watch together on Christmas Day.

Doing something like this can be a great thing to do. Not only does it heal old wounds that you may feel bitter about, but it's an easy way to make your family feel it has something unique to them.

Though the word 'tradition' suggests something old, it's really easy to bring in a new one, says Gummer: "Kids have short memories and after two years of doing something it becomes 'we always did this'.

How to create new traditions:

• A warning: "Kids like traditions more than parents so don't do anything at Christmas that you wouldn't want to do every year", says Lucy, 35, from London. "We're now stuck with the exact same playlist for cooking Christmas dinner and opening presents as we had the first year my son remembers."

• Traditions needn't be expensive. My favourite bauble this year, which I hope my daughter will cherish for years to come, is a felt letter to Santa from Wilkinson. It costs just £1.

• Time is as important as material things, be it taking time to sing a Christmas song together or write Christmas cards or make a paper chain to hang around the house.

• Not everyone has to do everything, especially when one person's tradition conflicts with another. Remember that family time doesn't mean you have to spend every minute together. Your partner's tradition might be going for a pint on Christmas eve and yours might be enjoying a bath on Christmas morning.


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