Updated: Mar 31
I have strong memories of the usual special events you get throughout the year, well in the Christian calendar anyway. I am sure those of you from other cultures will have similar memories. These regular events, like the changing of the seasons, can help provide things for your kids to look forward to and help you all create some great memories.
Being in a country on the other side of the World has changed these events for my family. With winter in summer and summer in winter, the experiences my children are having will never be the same as my own. This has opened up the opportunity to build new memories and create new traditions.
Traditions come from memories which you choose to recreate, or repeat, on more than one occasion. Some traditions only last for a a few years, going dormant until the next generation comes along, others resurface as required. It can be hard to know which memories your kids will decide to latch onto in the future.
Some traditions are started from a daft idea, others by linking in with religions or cultural events; wherever they come from make them work for your family.
A great starting point is to get out your calendar and note dates of interest. Why not celebrate National Ice Cream day (18th July), or stay in your pajamas day (April 16th). Having something to look forward, however wacky, is a great way to keep the family together through tougher times.
You will probably have noticed that there is a certain type of energy released into the family when you know something special is coming up, without these events, or things to look forward to, things can feel a little flat.
Since moving to New Zealand I have found myself missing out on some events which I used to really enjoy, including Pancake Day, or Throve Tuesday. This tradition consists of making and trying to flip pancakes without losing them on the floor or having them fold in half in the pan. There is sure to be a more historical significance to the event, but it’s the flipping of pancakes I remember. Pancakes can obviously be made and eaten at any time of year, but doing them on the day, just seems to make them taste better.
For some reason I get a little nostalgic at certain times of the year, holding onto traditions from my childhood, which no one else in my family really seems that interested in. We always used to carve swedes for Halloween (we did not eat pumpkin). Swede is pretty hard, so the jack o lanterns were pretty rough, but once you lit a candle and placed it inside, they came to life. My kids showed interest when they were young, and then lost interest when none of their friends did it, then became interested again as they got older. Sometime persistence pays off, whether or not they will continue the tradition with their own kids though, remains to be seen.
You know when your child is interested in a tradition as they will insist on it, and be happy to spend time on it. I used to spend hours setting up nativity scenes with my sister for Christmas, and decorating the tree was a family affair.
In the UK December nights were dark and tree lights were well used, helping create a truly festive feel to the place. To create the festive feel in New Zealand we would go to the Christmas Parades, and stay up late and visit the towns Christmas tree.
We also started to a tradition of producing a special tree decoration each year. We would chose a photo which depicted our two girls together, and send it off to Snapfish, an online photo creation app, to get a pottery decoration made. We ordered two each year, with the intention that when the girls have their own family tree, they can take their copy for their tree. It did not take very long for the number of decorations to grow, and now we have the added fun of trying to work out how old they were in each picture.
I have had parents indicate that the whole Father Christmas thing is not for them, and each to their own, whatever works for you and your family. I would say that children really enjoy a good story, and the mix of excitement and anticipation for the day makes it special. As adults it is easy to forget this, focusing more on the effort it takes to organise. Though my girls liked receiving gifts they were equally excited about buying gifts for their friends and each other.
Even though your child will be disappointed when they find out who Father Christmas really is, remember they will have had years of excitement before this, which I know I would not have wanted to miss. Belief tends to wane around eight upwards and by 10 neither of my girls believed in Santa anymore. Even though they didn’t believe they showed real disappointment when we said we were not looking to use the Santa sacks anymore. My eldest looked at us and said “but there is a Santa”, “really” I said “yes” she said as she came and hugged me and looked into my eyes with a smile on her face. We came to a compromise and agreed to continue with the stockings, which as teenagers they still look forward to.
There are no hard and fast rules around what you chose to do as a family to celebrate a certain time of year, a birthday or because its Thursday.
When my eldest was nine we started an Easter tradition. This consisted of rolling decorated boiled eggs down the road, the one which rolled furthest won. At the time we did not realise that this was going to become a tradition, until we found the girls pretty much demanding we replay the competition each year.
One year we were planning to be away over Easter, oh no, what would we do about our egg rolling? Everyone agreed that we would all decorate an Eggsplorer to take with us on holiday, and instead of rolling them down a hill they would be taken with us on our Eggventure.
For a few years we also carried out egg challenges, but after a couple of years these became too difficult to create, so the simple act of egg rolling became our thing.
There are lots of ways to help make birthdays fun and memorable, and they do not have to cost a lot, or take lots of preparation.
As a family we usually made our own cakes, some were outright disasters, other mini masterpieces, however it turned out a cake made for my birthday was a little luxury I enjoyed. As my eldest’s interest in baking and cake decorating grew, she got more involved.
I believe that the most successful birthday activities were the ones the girls could run for themselves, picking and choosing from the short but snappy birthday favourites, see below.
Pin the tail on the donkey
This can easily be adapted to suit the occasion. For my husband’s 40th we played pin the propeller on the aeroplane, and for my youngest’s birthday we drew a big chalk pony on the drive and had the party goers try and position themselves in the saddle.
Pass the parcel
This old favourite can be a little stressful, but we found that adding a few lollies between the layers helped keep those who had had a go occupied and less likely to fight for more than their fair share of goes.
Running around outside in the dark with a light is a real Kiwi classic, and one both girls enjoyed.
A Pool party
These worked well for my eldest and when combined with a tent-based sleep over, they gave myself and my husband some much needed peace and quiet.
Apart from the possible evening disturbance a film and pizzas are a fairly cheap and easy way of keeping the hoards happy.
Some of the best traditions are the private ones, the ones which no one else has, or does.
We play a card game at Christmas called Manchester rummy. As kids we hated it, it took too long, people were mean to us, taking the cards that we wanted, but we did it anyway, because it was tradition. Now I play it with my kids, and my sister plays it with hers!
We have a ‘made it’ mug, which I created so anyone in the family can recognise another person’s impact on the day. You’ve made my day… are the words on the front, and there are any number of options to choose from to finish the sentence on the back.
We still tend to have a Roast on a Sunday and eat pizza in front of the TV rather than at the table.
Traditions change as your kids change, some will appear to disappear, just to reappear in the next generation. Traditions can create connections to your past which you would otherwise forget. Stories and songs are also strong ways to keep traditions alive, and this will be looked at in another article.
What tradition do you have in your family?
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All the very best
Ruth Taylor www.ruthtaylor.net