Ready or not, the holidays are upon us! Hopefully this means you are excited and in the spirit rather than stressed out by this holiday season. It has worked out well that this last column on traits of healthy families will cover traits that show how important the holidays can be to your family wellness. This is the last installment in a series on the 15 traits of healthy families identified by family expert Dolores Curran. The three traits left to discuss are that healthy families have rituals and traditions, value service to others, and have a shared religious core.
Rituals and traditions have been found in abundance in healthy families. When a family has traditions they cherish, these traditions become a familial link between the past and the future. Rituals and traditions occur when a special meaning has been attached to a person, place, event, or thing. For instance, in some families the maternal grandmother becomes the central locus of family energy. A certain place, like a vacation spot or Grandpa’s house, can be imbued with special meaning. Family heirlooms are things to which very special meaning can be attached. Events, such as a yearly family vacation or reunion, can bring a wonderful unity to the family.
In my family, a great grandfather who lived to be 102 was a central figure. Thanksgiving was always at his house. As a child, our family went to Crow’s Nest Lake in Canada every year to camp and catch fish. Now that I’m married and have a family of my own, my wife and I have to choose which family traditions to incorporate from our families of origin, and what new rituals and traditions we want to establish in our family. This helps us in creating an identity for the family we are starting. My wife went with me up to the lake in Canada once. No plumbing, nor electricity or running water – needless to say this tradition didn’t make the cut.
At Christmas time we mostly have the same general rituals (i.e., have a Christmas tree, put up lights, open presents, have a big family meal). At the same time, most of us also create unique variations to these common practices. For instance, on Christmas Eve our family will open up one present, read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible. On Christmas morning we always have orange rolls for breakfast. These rituals and traditions are fun. When I get excited about Christmas coming, I’m mostly thinking about the rituals and traditions that bring our family together. Traditions give you the feeling of “this is what we do.” They become a part of your family identity.
The trait of “valuing service to others” is a value that stems from The Golden Rule of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Families who embody this trait are generous, hospitable, and caring towards others outside the family. To successfully make this trait a part of your family, find ways to serve others in substantial, real ways. It’s best to keep your service to others as simple as possible, and to maintain limits to your service. Each member of the family only has so much time and energy. Service to others shouldn’t result in neglect to yourself or your family.
The last trait identified as key to healthy family functioning is having a shared religious core. Healthy families report that faith in God plays a foundational role in their daily life. It seems that having a religious core serves to strengthen the family support system. In healthy, vibrant families this shared spiritual or religious core is passed on to the children in positive and meaningful ways. This is done through modeling and through shared activity that has religious meaning.
The holiday season is a perfect time to create these three traits in your own family. One of my favorite Christmas memories has all three of these traits. When I was a late teen my grandparent’s church held a free turkey dinner on Christmas day for anyone who wanted it. I went with them to help out and was surprised by how meaningful it was to spread a little Christmas cheer to some people who would have otherwise been alone and probably underfed on Christmas day. This became a tradition for our family. It was service to others, and came from a shared religious core in our family.
Here are some suggestions. This holiday season, I encourage you to find rituals and traditions that help create a unique family identity. Share your home, your time, your love with other people this season. Take your family to church and focus on the spiritual aspects of this holiday season. Focusing on establishing these traits in your family will definitely make this holiday worthwhile. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and burned out by the time New Years rolls around, you’ll feel blessed and encouraged.