By: Nanette Fairley
February 10, 2021


Family traditions connect the past to the present as they are passed down between generations.  They are re-created year after year, bringing family together and strengthening bonds.  Family traditions don’t have to be formal, overly fancy or cost too much money and can happen at any time of the year, not just around holidays.  They contribute to one’s identity and sense of belonging.  They also create positive memories, are inclusive and are recalled fondly or with humor years later!

A review of 50 years’ of research published in the Journal of Family Psychology (Vol 16, 2000) suggests that routines and rituals may contribute to the health and well-being of families. Family rituals and traditions give structure to what it means to be a family — no matter where you are in the world. This structure creates feelings of love, safety and security.  It also creates fond memories for our children to carry forward into their own families when they have grown.  There is even some suggestion that family traditions promote better emotional adjustment. Dr. Steven Wolin, a psychiatrist at the George Washington University, says, “If you grow up in a family with strong rituals, you’re more likely to be resilient as an adult.”

We have plenty of traditions in our family, but perhaps the biggest of them is the annual fishing trip to the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia.  This was started by my late grandfather in the 60s/early 70s and has been going pretty much ever since.  This is no weekend jaunt mind you – but a two week expedition requiring 4x4s, self sufficiency in the bush and a ton of common sense as the fishing grounds are crocodile infested. Every year the men in the family take this trip if they can.  It’s a bit of a right of passage too as you can’t join until you turn 18!

We also have a tradition of having Eggs Benedict and Champagne cocktails for Christmas breakfast every year.  This started in the 80s when we went, as a family, to an amazing restaurant in New Orleans while on holiday.  That was the first time us kids had had Eggs Benedict.  It was such a hit it became a Christmas treat in our family.  Forty years later there is something familiar and comfortable knowing that Christmas morning will always involve eggs done in this way.

Another tradition in our family, I am sure similar in others, was you got to choose your birthday dinner.  It was something we would think about long and hard as we were all foodies from a young age.  Everything from fondue to sushi to Mum’s spaghetti bolognaise was fair game!

What traditions exist in your family?

Could it be a recipe handed down over the years?  A friend recently posted a photo of an ancient, handwritten recipe she was cooking from – written out by her great grandmother many years ago.

Do you do takeout and movie night once a week?  Or a family camping every Easter?  Do you buy an annual Christmas decoration for the tree?  A friend of mine does that and the 2020 decoration had toilet rolls and face masks on it!

Whatever you do, the benefits can be great for a multigenerational family.

How to Sustain Traditions for the future

In thinking about how to sustain them, here’s a few tips.  If traditions are time consuming or overly complex, they may fall to the wayside in our busy lives.  Here are a couple of tips for continuity in your family traditions:

  • Try to keep them simple as they are more likely to be repeated.
  • Be willing to try things and then scrap them if they don’t work out. I hope to create a new tradition in my family, that as each of my nieces and nephews graduate from high school, we do some volunteer work somewhere in the world together.  Let’s see if we can make that stick for a few years as they all grow up.
  • Assess how inclusive and fun the activity is – if it feels like a chore for everyone it may not stick.
  • If you are a new grandparent, think about some new traditions you can evolve as your grandkids grow up.
  • If you are creating a new tradition, think about what your family enjoys and build upon that. The Covid-19 pandemic may have made it hard to stick to some family traditions, so start some new ones in their place.

Enjoy making cross generational memories through your family traditions!