What are your family’s traditions at holiday time?

Different individuals and groups have traditions connected to holidays. What holiday do you celebrate and how?

Presents wrapped in brown paper with red ribbons.

In this series of articles from Michigan State University Extension, we’ll look at your own cultural traditions and those traditions of others around you, and maybe help create some new traditions. By better understanding your own cultural traditions, hopefully you can better appreciate your own history, as well as understand and appreciate those around you.

Everybody has traditions that are important to them and help define who they are. In the 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World curriculum, culture is described as the way a group of people lives, including beliefs, values and behaviors. It includes such things as traditions and customs, language, ethnicity, race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, family structure, family occupation, lifestyle and geographic location (Jervis, 2006, and Michigan 4-H, 2012).

Many holidays are full of cultural traditions centered around groups of individuals you consider family. When members of your family are gathered together, it is a good time to ask questions and learn about family traditions. It is especially great when you have the opportunity to be with individuals who have been part of those traditions for a long time. If you are with family at a holiday gathering, here are some potential examples of questions to ask:

  •  Is there a particular day you start decorating? Has it always been that day?
  • Is there an order to how you decorate? Does a particular decoration go up first or last?
  • Do you get a live tree as part of your tradition? Did your older family members have different traditions for the tree?
  • What are the oldest holiday decorations in the house? Where did they come from? Are there family stories related to those decorations?
  • Which decorations are homemade? Do you remember when and how they were made?
  • Is there a decoration you remember that got broken or lost? Why was it special? Are there any photographs of it?
  • Are there any traditions about how decorations are removed or what you do with the tree?
  • Are there certain movies or television shows you always watch?
  • Are there jewelry or clothing that is only brought out at the holidays?
  • If you exchange gifts, who do you exchange gifts with and why?
  • Do you open gifts all at once or one at a time?
  • Do you have any family members who saved wrapping paper? Or used newspaper for wrapping paper?
  • Ask older family members what was their most memorable gift and why? Do they still have that gift? If not, do they know what happened to it?
  • Ask an older family member if there was a gift they really wanted as a kid, but never got?
  • Is there a certain place stockings are hung? Do they get filled in a certain way? Are they opened before or after other things?
  • Are there particular things you do when you get together, such as play board games, watch football or go to a movie?
  • When you leave home and maybe start your own family, what traditions will you want to keep? Are there any you definitely don’t want to keep?

All these items and more are part of your culture and traditions. Reflect on them this holiday season and think about which ones you want to carry on as you get older. Continue to explore them and those around you in your club, your community, your country and your world. You may look at some of these ideas and create some new traditions.

This article was inspired by and adapted from the 4-H Folkpatterns curriculum. Additional resources of interest may be the The Folkpatterns Leaders Guide and Foodways: A 4-H Folkpatterns Project.

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