The Top 7 Best Ways to Capture Your Family’s Holiday Traditions
8 min read
The holiday season is upon us, and for many of us that brings the celebration of long-held family traditions and customs, evoking fond memories of nights spent around the tree with our grandparents or giggling with our cousins at the dinner table.
For others, it might mean starting new celebrations or enjoying those that others follow.
Those annual rituals are an important part of who we are. We honour where we came from when we bake Grandma’s cookies or cut down our own tree “just like dad used to do.”
Are holiday traditions important? Those experiences, whether large or small, show us we are part of something bigger than ourselves. They allow us to celebrate where we came from. We link our past to our present when we pass on those fun events, foods, and activities.
And while there are different holidays celebrated in December, the common theme is the celebration of being with family and friends and sharing special moments. Remembering how excited the kids were to look inside their stockings is a memory you don’t want to forget.
But when the holiday season is over, how do you make sure your traditions are saved? You don’t want to forget the taste of Grandma’s cookies, how dad smiled when he found the perfect tree, or the laughter of your child when they open a special gift.
Will you be able to pass down those favourite family memories to your children? And will you remember the special moments you shared with your parents, and then your own children, when the lights are down and the tree is put away?
Let’s look at the top 7 best ways to capture your family’s holiday traditions, so you can preserve those important memories and keep those traditions alive.
1. Save Traditional Recipes
Holiday traditions around the world often encompass food in their celebrations.
For instance, eating long noodles is a tradition in Japan on Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, to symbolize crossing over from one year to the next. Hanukkah is often celebrated with foods such as potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot). During Kwanzaa there is a feast called the Karamu each day. Sugar cookies cut into the shapes of Santa Claus or reindeer are a popular Christmas treat in Canada.
Make sure your family’s holiday traditions are kept alive by saving those recipes and making the dishes or baked goodies that are part of your culture. If you’re Icelandic, learn how to make the traditional vinarterta cake; if you’re Norwegian, get mom to teach you how to make lefse; a traditional Ukrainian will know that the Christmas Eve dinner begins with kutia.
But the traditions don’t have to be based on a religion or nationality. If your grandpa always made roast pork on New Year’s Eve - just because - and you loved it, then learn how he did it and carry on the ritual.
2. Exchange Special Gifts
Exchanging gifts is another tradition that is part of many different holidays in December. In some instances, they are part of the lore of the holiday itself. In Iceland, there is the legend of the 13 Yule Lads. A different one arrives each night in the days before Christmas, leaving small gifts in shoes left in window sills.
Gifts are exchanged on other holiday occasions too. They don’t have to be expensive or big. My father - who never shopped - used to give each of us a book as a gift, spending a lot of time carefully choosing each one. We carried that tradition on with our own children and grandchildren, signing the book as Dad used to and often wrapping it in comics as was his tradition.
Another popular gift is an ornament that marks the year, a memento that lasts and can be enjoyed in coming years at each holiday season.
3. Honour Those You’ve Lost
It’s true that holidays are often associated with feelings of joy. But they can be a difficult time of year for many, particularly if a loved one has been lost during the year. One way to celebrate their life is to carry on a tradition of your loved one. In fact, many holidays such as Kwanzaa include a specific ritual of honouring ancestors.
If Grandpa used to sing a special song or read a holiday book to the kids, then make sure someone does it on his behalf.
That ritual doesn’t have to be specific to the holiday season, either. If mom’s favourite dish was potato salad, why not make potato salad for dinner in her honour. So what if it’s traditionally a summer dish?
4. Keep A Journal
Those who don’t enjoy writing may shudder at this suggestion, but a journal doesn’t have to require a bunch of work.
By making a few notes each year about the holiday memories that were most special, and jotting down the traditions that you want to cherish, you can keep a journal that ensures memories and traditions aren’t lost.
Clippings of recipes, printed photos, directions from mom for making the perfect gravy, can all be added to a journal that gets updated at any holiday occasion.
5. Ask Others About Their Memories
The togetherness that’s enjoyed at holiday time evokes different emotions for everyone. Rather than keep only your favourite memories and traditions alive, ask the people you share the holidays with about their individual experiences of the same events and occasions.
Your kids may have different memories about holiday time at Papa and Grandma’s house. Your spouse has their own family customs. Even your parents may want you to carry on different rituals than the ones you love, so why not ask them?
Take a little time to enquire about everyone’s favorite memories and traditions, and add those to your holiday journal.
6. Start New Traditions
It’s wonderful to carry on the rituals of your family, and bring together those of different families when you get married. But it’s also great to start your own traditions too.
For instance, if you’ve just had a baby, you may want to begin a custom on their first holiday season, one that you can carry on each year. Combine them with the traditions of old, and your holidays can be even more special.
And, if there are traditions you don’t particularly like, it’s OK to stop doing them, too. Maybe you’re sick of eating turkey and you’d rather make pasta for a new “traditional” holiday meal. Or you’re tired of cutting your own tree “just like dad used to,” and instead you hang a photo of dad on the small artificial one you prefer. Some traditions may evoke sadness, so it’s OK to stop doing them if that’s what’s right for you.
7. Keep A Digital Diary
It’s too easy to forget the cute letter your child wrote to Santa or how the tree looked once it was cut down and decorated. Preserve those holiday memories with a digital diary that also makes it easy for you to share your traditions with others.
memoryKPR is an easy-to-use digital platform that you can use to capture and preserve your family’s holiday traditions. You can create a story “book” specific to this holiday year, or create a holiday memoryKPR that can be added to year after year.
Use memoryKPR to capture voice recordings, photos, videos and add notes, letting you preserve every type of holiday tradition:
Save traditional recipes by scanning Grandma’s written notes and adding them to a memoryKPR.
Take videos of the special gift exchange, capturing your kids opening gifts from family or your children giving gifts to their grandparents.
Record Grandpa singing that special song or reading a book, and preserve the memory in his voice for future generations.
Use the notes section for a journal, including the special memories of others.
Scan your child’s letter to Santa.
Take a picture of the tree.
Write the story of the new tradition, or why you left behind an old one.
You can use memoryKPR on a computer, or on a mobile device with the app that’s available on the App Store or on Google Play. Then upload all kinds of files, with support for formats like JPEG, PNG, MP4, MP3, WAV, and more.
You can even import directly from social media like Facebook and Instagram, and invite others to contribute via email or with a QR code. You can also share the final product with others, or have a family viewing at the next holiday gathering.
By saving it all in a safe digital format, you’ll ensure your family traditions will be saved for your children and grandchildren, and your memories can easily be enjoyed year after year.
The holiday season brings new memories and evokes fond remembrances of past times with family and friends, however you celebrate.
Passing along traditions from year to year gives us a sense of belonging, a link to our past and a chance to remember good times.
By capturing your family’s holiday traditions and the stories behind them, you’ll be able to reminisce each year while creating new holiday memories with your loved ones.
Ardith Stephanson is a freelance writer and journalist who shares some of her own stories at theardizan.com