Regardless of faith, many of us have rituals this time of year — anything from decorating the house and lighting candles to baking cookies and singing songs. Such symbolic activities are usually repeated to mark special occasions, but they also can be everyday routines shared with friends or family that convey values, togetherness, and continuity. “Rituals should allow you to slow down and convene,” says Jennifer Trainer Thompson, author of The Joy of Family Traditions (Celestial Arts, 2008). According to a 50-year research review by the American Psychological Association, rituals and routines are linked with marital satisfaction, health, academic achievement, and stronger family relationships. “The search for meaning and identity through ritual is ancient,” says Thompson. “But in today's hectic world it's more important than ever.”

HOW TO begin something new

  • Connect with your history

    Consult older family members about their childhood traditions, and see if you can re-create one of them.

  • Adopt new holiday customs
    Bake a family recipe on the first day of winter break. Turn off the lights and celebrate the winter solstice (December 21) with a candlelit feast. Take a family snowshoe hike on New Year's Day.
  • Recognize everyday opportunities
    Eat one family meal per day; brush your teeth together; read poetry or bedtime stories every night.
  • Practice intention rather than convenience
    Hold a weekly movie night with popcorn and sleeping bags. Have kids clean and mend gently used toys from last year to donate to a local shelter.

Tips

Rituals don't have to be momentous or time consuming to be meaningful.

  • Don't let the ritual overshadow the spirit of the event.

  • Include kids in planning.

  • Minimize interruptions: Turn off phones and computers.

  • If a ritual feels forced or isn't fun, especially as your children grow, abandon it.

NEED A STARTING POINT? Jennifer Trainer Thompson's book, The Joy of Family Traditions (Celestial Arts, 2008), offers more than 400 ideas for creating family rituals. Learn more at joyoffamilytraditions.com.