One of my favorite childhood memories involved going swimming at a local lake.
As soon as we climbed in the car wearing our swimsuits, my brother and I would begin begging our father to “Heat up the car, Daddy!” My mom would roll her eyes and sigh while he rolled up all the windows and turned the heat on full blast. By the time we made the five-minute drive to the lake we were so hot the whole family would burst out of the car and run full-speed into the water, shrieking and laughing.
My brother and I still reminisce about those hot rides to the beach, usually while our spouses stare at us with puzzled faces. As weird as it may seem to people outside our family, it’s something we did so many times that it became a tradition.
Traditions are repeated rituals that provide a sense of identity and help tell the story of your family. Recreating the same experience, whether it’s once a week or around specific events like birthdays or holidays, builds shared memories. The hope is that each time you do it you’re reminded of all the previous (hopefully happy) experiences you had doing the same thing.
We all have our own version of the hot car ride to the beach—a unique family ritual we experienced growing up. As we become parents and form our own families, we get to decide which of those to carry forward into our holiday celebrations and daily life. We also have the chance to form new traditions.
Building new traditions can be a lot of fun, so here are some ideas for meaningful every day and holiday rituals to get you started.
1. Start a happiness jar
At dinner, everyone shares the happiest moment of their day. For bonus points, you can write them all down, put them in a jar, then pull them out and read them back at the end of the month or year.
2. Have the same meal on the same day every week
We like taco Tuesdays or breakfast-for-dinner on Fridays. Knowing that you’ll share a family meal at the same time each week gives everyone something to look forward to. This intentional time together offers a great bonding experience and an opportunity for everyone to share things going on in their lives with one another—which is especially great with older kids!
3. Host a family talent show
Sing a song, do a drawing, or run the fifty-yard dash—everyone chooses a talent to showcase as you cheer each other on.
4. Have show and tell night
A familiar game to school-age children can be a great thing for the whole family. Every family member chooses one thing to bring to the dinner table and shares why it’s meaningful to them.
5. Take a daily or weekly family walk
Early in the morning or after dinner, a short walk is a great way to get out of the house for a bit of exercise and away from screens. If your kids are small, the stroller is a great option. As they grow, they’ll be excited to walk along with you.
6. Read bedtime stories
Apart from boosting their reading skills, sharing a bedtime story with a child promotes their motor skills (through learning to turn the pages) and their memory. It also improves their emotional and social development and encourages the bonding process.
7. Plan a monthly Mommy/Daddy date with each child
Choose a special morning or afternoon where each child gets to pick what you do to spend some one-on-one time together.
8. Choose a community service project
This is even better when done regularly, whether quarterly or annually. Returning to the same project or cause on an ongoing basis gives kids a sense of familiarity and mastery as they look forward to helping each time.
9. Camp out in front of your Christmas tree
Keep the tree lights on, read holiday stories, and snack on holiday treats. It may be too chilly to camp outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set up camp right there in the living room. Grab some sleeping bags, extra pillows, and blankets and spend the night together under the twinkle of the Christmas tree.
10. Go shopping for children and families in need
Agree on a budget and go on a “shopping spree” for gifts to donate to local organizations that support families and children who may not have as much as many of us. It’s a different experience for kids to select toys that are not for them and also helps them understand the financial value of different items and how it all adds up.
11. Deliver homemade treats to friends and neighbors
Make special stops at the local fire station, police department, or leave some goodies out for your mail carrier. Plus, you can hand deliver some treats to your nearby neighbors to spread holiday cheer.
12. Drive to see Christmas lights
Few things are as fun as seeing holiday lights throughout the neighborhood. Make it a special annual event to drive through local parks and neighborhoods to bask in the light displays.
13. Countdown to New Year’s together
Whether your kiddos are old enough to stay up until midnight or not, plan a special NYE night with them each year to say goodbye to the old and in with the new. Have special treats and drinks, throw on a countdown, and ring in the new year with the ones who matter most.
14. Plan a holiday haul from the library
Bring a small gift for the librarians who work year-round to provide resources for your community. Stock up on books for winter break, including some about holidays that are different from your own.
15. Leave love notes to your kids
For the month of February leading up to Valentine’s Day, leave heart-shaped notes on children’s doors while they’re sleeping. The notes can describe something you love about them, offer encouragement, or share a fun memory about them. They’ll love seeing the notes collect over time!
16. Have a holiday movie night
Nothing gets us in the holiday spirit quite like the movies. Around Christmastime, select one night where everyone cozies up on the couch together to watch a holiday movie. Either watch the same favorite or vow to watch something new together each year.
17. On birthdays, present your child with two envelopes
One envelope is labeled, “New Privilege”; the other, “New Responsibility.” Amidst all the fun and presents, this is an opportunity to remind your child that with age comes greater power and that with greater power comes greater responsibility.
18. Conduct birthday interviews every year for each family member
Cover the same set of topics annually, including questions like “What was your most memorable moment from the past year?” and “What are you most looking forward to in the next year?” Save everyone’s interviews in a folder and read back over them regularly to mark the passage of time.
19. Decorate their bedroom door
Nothing says “happy birthday” like waking up in the morning to your bedroom door being decked out. Put a big smile on the birthday boy or girl’s face by surprising them with balloons, streamers, and the like as one of the first things they see on their big day.
20. Let them pick the meal
Birthdays are meant to be the ultimate “yes” day, so it’s only right that they get to choose the meal of the day. Pizza for breakfast and waffles for dinner? Why not!
21. Birthday present scavenger hunt
While holiday presents usually go in a special place, there’s typically no birthday tree to keep gifts under. So, why not make birthday gifts special by making it a little challenge? Set up clues for them to follow to track down their birthday present. You can even leave smaller gifts at each step along the way to make it extra special.
Whether you choose to adopt ideas from this list or design your own, having family traditions is an important part of communicating your values to your kids. Not only that, but traditions are an effective remedy against what can sometimes feel like the daily grind of parenting. They help lift us out of ordinary life to create peaks when we feel we’ve plateaued, and memories that result from them will be treasured for years to come.