Holiday traditions serve an important role in the lives of children. Here are some of the primary benefits of holiday traditions for children, tweens and teens.
Holiday Traditions Create Stability
Although children often seek out novelty-such as the newest video game or movie-they also crave stability in their lives. This is especially the case for tweens and teens, who are experiencing rapid and often confusing changes in their social, emotional and physical worlds. Holiday traditions serve as touchstones that the family returns to year after year, no matter what happens. This helps developing children feel grounded and secure, in spite of all the shifting that is occurring within and around them.
Holiday Traditions Help Children Feel Useful
From about five to 11 years of age, children struggle to believe that they can be useful and successful at a variety of activities. Psychologists call this core element of personality "industry". Holiday traditions typically involve clear roles and responsibilities for each family member, from the youngest to the oldest. For instance, a tween may be tasked with picking out the candy that will be given out on Halloween or helping to make cookies for Christmas. In successfully completing their holiday-related tasks, children get to naturally work on their sense of industry, and therefore develop their personalities.
Holiday Traditions Provide a Sense of Identity
Older tweens and teens are actively trying to figure out who they are. Holiday traditions provide them with a key part of the puzzle: a sense of "family identity". Through the traditions, they get to see the roles, responsibilities and boundaries of family members. They also learn about what their family does and does not value based. These annual observations help children, tweens and teens better understand their family and, in turn, themselves.
Holiday Traditions Combat Adolescent Egocentrism
Older tweens and teens typically show signs of adolescent egocentrism, or the belief that everyone is focused on them. Holiday traditions often force them out of this mindset, if even just for a day. For instance, young and old relatives are typically involved in holiday traditions, and their needs often take center stage. Tweens may be involved in caring for these younger or older relatives, moving the tweens away from their self-focus. In addition, many holiday traditions involve generosity and giving, which also counter egocentric tendencies.
Holiday Traditions Pass Along Cultural Values
Finally, holiday traditions convey important cultural values. For one, the values of the larger group are passed along. For example, the celebration of Thanksgiving centers around American values, while religious holidays pass along Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other belief systems. At the same time, holiday traditions transmit clear messages about what the particular family values. For instance, if the family attends church every Easter, the child learns a message about the importance of organized religion. Or if the family tradition helps out at a soup kitchen every Thanksgiving, the importance of community involvement is strongly communicated.
Wolin, Steven J., MD & Bennett, Linda A., PhD. Family Rituals. Family Process. 1984. 23: 401-420.