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How to Start a Holiday Tradition

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As promised, this month I’m bloggin’ about the holidays. Today, I’d like to talk a little about holiday traditions. Take a moment to think of some traditions you and your family have for the holidays. Perhaps it’s gathering for cocoa after lighting the Menorah each night. Or maybe it’s going to a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm each year on the day after Thanksgiving to find the perfect tree. Whatever your traditions are, and no matter how dear they are to you, sometimes it’s time to consider some new ones. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to ditch the old ones; the holidays are stretching out longer and longer each year, so there’s plenty of time to go around.

Probably one of the easiest ways to start a new tradition is to look to your old ones for inspiration. This past weekend, I participated in an old but new holiday tradition: volunteering. It’s old in that throughout the years, I’ve volunteered with family and friends at a variety of places during the holidays. And it’s new because for just the past six years, I’ve consistently participated in an annual project called Christmas House, where hundreds of people from our community come together to provide new coats, toys and books for a lot of kids (around 850). Obviously, to accomplish such a sizeable and elaborate event, many of us work on this project throughout the year. But what makes it a holiday tradition for me (and my friends and family) is that we all pitch in and work together for two days at the beginning of each December. It really heralds the holidays for me and I can’t imagine a holiday without it now, which is the sign of a true tradition.

Another easy way to start a tradition is to recognize something that you’ve done repeatedly during the holidays and then give it the recognition it deserves by declaring it a tradition. A college friend’s birthday is December 14th. For years, several of us would get together for dinner to celebrate her birthday. Eventually, it became a birthday/holiday mashup celebrated by a fun-filled girl’s night and gift exchange. Finally, after a decade of doing this, I sort of staked claim to it as one of my holiday traditions. So now, each year, I make sure we gather to celebrate our dear friend and the joy and love our continued friendship brings to all of our lives. Sometimes only a few of us can make it and sometimes we add new friends to the “old” group — but it continues to be one of my favorite holiday traditions (and a fun birthday celebration for my friend!).

And the most straightforward way to start a tradition is — you guessed it — just to do it. Talk to your family and friends and get an idea of what everyone might be interested in doing. It could be something simple, like starting an annual cookie swap or gathering a group to volunteer at the local food bank for the day. Or it could be something more elaborate like hosting a big neighborhood party or planning a family trip. I recently met someone whose family, now that the kids are all grown, goes on an annual trip together. So far, each family member has picked a locale — most of which have been abroad. Of course, as the ‘kids’ start to have kids of their own, this tradition might change a little, but that’s the beauty of holiday traditions.

If you’re wondering what my newest tradition is — it’s having a homemade holiday. A few of us (a mix of friends and family) have declared a homemade rule on holiday gifts. We did this last year — the range of gifts was amazing (apparently, I know some really talented, creative people) — and everyone liked it so much that we’ve decided to do it again this year.

So what are your holiday traditions? We’d love to hear them!

And while you’re pondering the holidays and your annual traditions, don’t forget to follow How-to Stuff on Facebook and Twitter, and download the new HowStuffWorks iPhone app from iTunes!

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