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Holiday traditions can bind families

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Holidays have a way of bringing structure and celebration to certain days, but stress and hurt feelings can follow if families do not handle change with care.

Patsilu Reeves, family life education specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said traditions are a large part of a family's identity.

“Traditions help create bonds in families, and these bonds create unity and family history,” Reeves said. “Traditions prevent us from having to reinvent the wheel at every holiday. Families know they always eat dinner at grandma's house and a certain aunt makes the pie and another uncle reads the Christmas story.”

But when traditions change, it can bring disunity. Death, poor health, divorce and even marriage can change the way families celebrate holidays and special days.

“If grandmother is not healthy or strong enough to do all the cooking, cleaning and hosting that she has always done, it might be time to negotiate a new way to celebrate a holiday meal,” Reeves said.

In this case, the person should be given the chance to find a new role in the family gathering, such as making a special dish or entertaining young children while others host.

A death in the family can impact traditions as the remaining family struggles with the hole this person left in the family gathering.

“If an uncle did a reading every Christmas Eve, and now he's gone, some families find it easier to start a whole new tradition or just skip that one rather than find someone to step into that role,” Reeves said.

Additions to the family also can shake up routines, but Reeves encouraged families to treat this as a chance to bring in new traditions that enrich the entire family.

“When there's a new in-law in the family, the two families should negotiate a plan in advance if established traditions conflict with each other, such as having both families host a traditional Christmas feast at noon on Christmas day,” Reeves said. “In negotiation, nobody wins everything. Both families need to give a little to avoid pain and hurt feelings that can last for many Christmases and Thanksgivings to come.”

Divorce with children involved may be the most difficult threat to tradition that a family must overcome.

“The main thing to remember is that the children should have a wonderful holiday with their families, and adults should act like adults and make it happen,” Reeves said. “Family traditions are to be relished and enjoyed, but never forget that they are for the benefit of the family. Some traditions have to be adapted as families grow and change.”

Louise Davis, Extension child and family development specialist, said the holidays are not the only time families can make and celebrate their own traditions.

“Traditions can be as simple as a certain meal every Saturday night or a special custom to celebrate a good grade at school,” Davis said. “But these traditions give children and adults something they can count on, and assure them that they play an important part in families.”


Released: Nov. 3, 2005
Contact: Dr. Patsilu Reeves, (662) 325-3080


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