Q. My wife and I want to know how to create a strong family unit with our two children, ages three and five. We especially want to know how to make our celebration of the holidays a happy and meaningful time. Our families of origin were chaotic and holidays were often unhappy. What do you suggest?
A. Family rituals and family traditions are essential in creating a strong family unit. These provide a structure for family life that means security for children. Dr. Tony Campolo, a sociologist, says that “the higher the level of ritual, the higher the level of emotional stability in families.”
The opposite is also true. Families with little or no ritual or tradition are destructive to the emotional health of children. These children lead fragmented, insecure lives. They have little direction; their family life has no form or structure. Rituals and traditions provide this. Rituals and traditions are also essential to children in developing and forming their faith.
There are numerous rituals and traditions which most families develop without realizing they’re doing so. Family bed time rituals are common and very important. If you haven’t begun these yet now is the time while your children are young. Each family works out their own rituals. It’s important to put children to bed in their own beds at the same time every night. Bedtime rituals often include a snack, brushing teeth, hugs and “Good night” to every member of the family, reading books and a bed time prayer. The ritual always follows the same format once it’s established.
The bedtime ritual calms children down after a busy day. The predictability is reassuring. Campolo says, “As fragmented as the day may have been, it’s all put back together at night with the ritual.”
Rituals also develop around meal times. Again, it helps a child’s sense of security as well as that of parents if meals are together and at the same times every day. A family prayer before each meal enhances the sense of unity in a family as well as encouraging a child’s faith in God.
Each family develops their own unique form or “ritual” for carrying out these activities. If one person in the family bakes Christmas cookies alone, this is not a family ritual. A family ritual must include the children. Young children can help baking cookies and can help decorating the tree. Tasks may take longer but remember you’re building family stability.
Other family traditions can involve reading stories to your children about your faith and the meaning of each holiday. This can be done all year but the Christmas story is especially appealing to children. There are many Christmas books available at the library to help with this if your children need to see pictures in order to listen well. The Christmas story straight from scripture can also be read. See Christmas script for families on this blog. See also Christmas Advent Wreath for families.
It’s traditional for many families to attend church events together at Christmas. This is a good time to become more involved in your church so you and your children will learn and experience the rituals and traditions of your faith together. In a world that seems chaotic the rituals of the church strengthen family life, comfort us and give life meaning. And most importantly, they teach us that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life!
“For unto you is born this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11