Believe it or not, most people — young and old — find comfort in traditions.
There is something special about kicking off the holiday season with a ritual you look forward to each year like running as a family in Families on the Run, the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven, going to pick out the Christmas tree or watching "It's a Wonderful Life." It gives you a warm, comforting feeling on the inside.
Research indicates that traditions are important for a number of reasons.
• They help pass along cultural and family values to the next generation;
• They provide a sense of family history and define the boundaries of the family;
• They give each member of the family a sense of identity, strength and belonging;
• They provide a meaningful purpose for coming together;
• They help build strong family bonds.
If you think traditions don't really mean much to your family, try making a change and see what happens. One mom was met with extreme protests when she arrived home with an artificial tree. Her children informed her, "We don't do fake trees."
Sometimes the things you think matter the least to your family are the very things they hold near and dear. The food you serve, the Christmas puzzle that takes the entire season to complete, the cookie decorating, drinking hot chocolate, decorating the tree while watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas," volunteering and opening presents together are all traditions that are important to families.
Perhaps your family is steeped in traditions that have been carried out for decades and, while you love the old, you think it is time to create some new traditions of your own. No need to be intimidated. New traditions don't have to be time consuming or complicated. Here are some ideas to get you started:
• Build a gingerbread house as a family. No time to bake the gingerbread? No problem. Purchase a gingerbread house kit or use graham crackers, cake icing and candy.
• Make Christmas cookies and take them to friends. If you don't want the mess of making them from scratch, buy the pre-made dough in the grocery's refrigerated section.
• Do a jigsaw puzzle and have it framed. They make great Christmas decorations and bring back fun memories through the years.
• Volunteer as a family. There are lots of places that would appreciate help during the holidays and throughout the year.
• Start a Secret Santa project for a shut-in or a family in need. This is a great way to teach your children about the importance of giving.
• Pick out a favorite family holiday flick. Make some hot chocolate and enjoy the movie together.
• Invite other families over to play charades using Christmas carols and songs.
• Take the family to look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve.
• Attend the children's service or the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service at church.
When your life is hectic, it is easy to let traditions fall by the wayside. Instead of throwing everything to the wind, choose a couple of things you can do to create traditions for your family. It is often those time honored traditions that bring us comfort and joy during the holidays.
Email Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at julieb@first things.org.