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I come from a long line of full-blooded Italians. My dad was almost a stereotype; he loved to yell and shout and use wild hand gestures. His opinions were passionate, and his voice was booming. Dinner at our house always sounded like the start of war but usually ended with hysterical laughter.
Another truth about Italians: we bury ourselves in tradition.
Our family traditions are passed down from generation to generation, and they add to the rhythm and seasonality of life. Something else that is passed down in an Italian family: recipes. SECRET family recipes.
Every Thanksgiving, from as far back as I can remember my dad would kick everyone out of the kitchen for three hours while he prepared the holiday soup. His soup included a special ingredient that he insisted was to remain secret.
Everyone has family traditions, whether new or old, and they hold a special place in our hearts. Although holiday customs are usually the first thing people think of when you mention traditions, they are not the only ones families have.
Traditions help bond us to those we love
Traditions are rituals families engage in over and over. There is a reason we intentionally maintain and create traditions – it’s because they bring meaning to our celebrations and help bond us to those we love. They lend a certain spirit that nurtures the family connection, giving us a sense of belonging and helping us celebrate generations of family.
More importantly, traditions create positive memories for children. Children crave the warmth and promise that comes with traditions. They anchor family members to each other and provide a sense of belonging.
The great news is that even a new family, foster family or nontraditional family can find ways to create little rituals that everyone looks forward to. Just because there are not generations of relatives binding individuals by blood doesn’t mean loving traditions can’t make a lifelong impact.
In both direct and subtle ways, traditions play a role in shaping a child’s personal identity
Family rituals tell children a story about who they are and what is important to the family, and it creates a connection that comes from feeling like they are a part of something unique and extraordinary. Psychologist Marshall Duke found that children who have intimate knowledge of their family’s history are typically more well-adjusted and confident than children who don’t. They have higher levels of self-esteem, fewer behavioral problems, and better family functioning.
More than just the holidays
Aside from holiday traditions, families should have daily connection traditions with their children. Daily connection traditions are those small activities you do every day that re-enforces family identity and values.
Ellen Galinsky, author of Ask The Children, and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute surveyed children, asking them what they would remember most about their childhood. Most of the kids responded by describing everyday traditions like family dinners, bedtime stories, and watching television shows together. Happy childhood memories offer positive benefits that children take with them long into adulthood.
Families are not perfect, and there is no “perfect family tradition.” To create a ritual in your family, just bring a little creativity, a great story and a lot of love to the table. You can start with something as simple as soup.
My dad passed away several years ago, taking with him the secret ingredient to our Thanksgiving soup. It’s a family tradition from my childhood, however, that I’m not willing to let die. So my children are booted from the kitchen every morning on Thanksgiving Day while I make the family soup with a brand new secret ingredient.