The word “tradition” flies around as frequently as falling leaves this time of year, with more than half the universe assuming that “traditions” are the norm. They are for some, but there are plenty of people out there who never really grew up with holiday rituals. It’s a great excuse for adults to poke fun at their own parents, but also causes a bit of anxiety when years later, they’re put in charge of bringing special occasions and holidays to life.
Here’s the thing: traditions don’t have to be a big deal. And, they can be updated each year to fit in with your family’s changing size, ages, marital, financial or health situations. (Sorry to sound bleak, but hey, life happens.) And if you haven’t yet started a family (or don’t want to ,) ), you can still do all the things mentioned here, just with half the mess and half the noise.
Your family’s tradition can be as simple as everyone piling into Mom and Dad’s bed with crayons and colored pencils, books, magazines, even tablets, and engaging in conversation about what’s happening in the world that morning, what kinds of foods the kids would rather eat than turkey and cranberries—and drawing a picture of said preferred meal; reading stories or poems aloud, or looking up new words (hence, the tablet); playing Go Fish, cribbage, gin rummy or backgammon; drafting a letter to Santa, making place cards for the table, or just snuggling and tickling and watching the Macy’s parade (or better yet, Sponge Bob) with breakfast popcorn (a mix of cereal and popcorn) and hot cocoa with marshmallows. This is especially wonderful when you’re not hosting or rushing out the door to get anywhere.
Other cheap, easy and fun ways to get in the holiday spirit, is to write a thank you letter to another family member (everyone can pull a name out of a cup and then big sisters/brothers and moms and dads can help the younger ones write to their drawn recipient). The letters can also be used as place cards, dressed up with a doodle or drawing of a turkey. (Thumbprints are perfect for making a turkey’s body.)
If you’re cool with getting a little messy, having the kids find rocks outside (they do need to run around a bit or they’ll drive you bonkers), and set out some washable paint so they can create colorful place markers that can be saved and used all year long.
Older kids can design an official menu, then incorporate that into the festive tablescape you’ll put them in charge of laying out. While they’re looking for rocks, they can pick up twigs, feathers, acorns, leaves and anything else they fancy. With your help, they can decorate the table making them feel a part of the special celebration. If you’re bringing out any family heirlooms, now is the time to share stories about their history (the objects and the person who gave it to you).
Jazz up each place setting with mini pumpkins, bundles of twigs and feathers (you can buy these at the craft store) tied with twine or raffia, clementines embellished with whole cloves (it’s a Martha Stewart rip-off that I can’t take credit for, but do every year because they make the house smell amazing). My kids also
always loved making baked apples or apple rings, and this is something they can do while your working on the turkey and trimmings.
Speaking of turkey, one of the most coveted to-dos for kids as they get older (after they turn 14/15, the magic ends), is timing the turkey. They get to watch the clock, set the timer, help you baste the bird and get a lot of the credit when it is pulled out of the oven in all its juicy, mahogany glory. Designating someone as “candle lighter” always went over big at our house as well.
Less original, but requisite, is writing down what we are each thankful for and putting into a bowl, then everyone picking a slip of paper and reading it, guessing who wrote it. (Handwriting is usually a giveaway, but that doesn’t take away the fun.) We’ve also been known to go around the table and talk about what we weren’t thankful for that year, which is actually a positive and subtle way to encourage behavior change, tolerance, empathy, forgiveness and compassion.
Last but not least is family movie night—or afternoon, while the turkey roasts—everyone votes on what to watch, someone makes the admission tickets and someone grabs the blankets. After all, this isn’t just a movie; it’s snug time.
And when all hell breaks loose, and everyone starts fighting, there’s only one more tradition to uphold: outside with a basketball or off for a walk. Mom gets to stay in and get a few minutes peace.