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A Season of Rituals

Your school-age child is ready to participate in the creation of meaningful holiday Marybeth Lambe, M.D.

Traditions and rituals speak volumes about a family's inner life and values—what the family stands for, its collective character traits, its hopes, humor, and interests. Traditions are part of the glue that bonds a family, and rituals affirm a family's closeness and uniqueness. Children treasure these customs and need them to maintain a sense of who they are, what they stand for, and their place in the world. This becomes particularly crucial as children enter the grade-school years, and venture out from the comfort and security of their home. Holiday rituals strengthen children's sense of belonging to their family and, at the same time, offer the family a connection to a much larger community.

Our children, whether they come to us as infants or older, whether born in this country or another, often bring with them a different ethnicity, culture, or religious background.

Celebrating their diversity can create a more powerful, inclusive, and unique holiday season. As children learn to appreciate their own cultures and those of their siblings, the emphasis of cultural identity and the sharing of various traditions give a sense of worth to our adopted sons and daughters, as well as to their siblings who joined the family by birth.

Traditions also say to children that there is predictability, an order of doing things, and that everyone in the family has a role. At this age, part of your child's pleasure in rituals is knowing the script by heart and being a full participant.

Unique Traditions for Unique Families

As we forge and then revisit holiday rituals again and again, we create memories to sustain our children and cement family unity. Certainly important are those traditions and rituals handed down through our family from generation to generation. Just as valid, however, are those that we make ourselves. Your grade-schooler can contribute to discussions about selecting and developing rituals. He'll thrive in a family that partakes in both newly created as well as long-time traditions. If old traditions cease to function, don't fit, or lead to anxiety, consider this an impetus for experimentation and renovation.

Long after your child has forgotten what he received for Christmas or Chanukah, he'll recall the way the holidays were celebrated. By itself, each little custom may seem a trifle, but the sum of them is the season's best gift.

Dr. Marybeth Lambe is a family physician, writer, and adoptive mom living in Washington State.

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