Jan’s Family Traditions & How to Create Your Own

Casey: Every now and then, my mom, Jan, takes over the blog to write about a particular topic that I think she has a lot of expertise in. She is definitely an expert on today’s topic…how to create family traditions. I think you’re going to enjoy reading about all of the amazing family traditions my mom has created for us.

Jan and her Grandmother
Me & My Grama

When Casey first asked me to write about how to create family traditions, it gave me the opportunity to stop and think about the things our family does year after year, and why those things have become so important to us. Most of our long-standing traditions come from my maternal grandmother, “Grama”. She passed on to me the importance of “family” and the importance of repeating events year after year, to keep traditions alive. (And she’s the reason why my own grandchildren call me “Grama”.)

My Grama

My Grama was the kindest, most generous, most loving woman I have ever met. She lived through horrendous heartbreak – losing all three of her sons, at ages 21, 19, and 11, and then losing her husband shortly after that. When they were all gone, she was left with only my mom, so she spent lots of time with my family of origin as I was growing up.

I was fascinated, listening to stories about my Grama’s life. She talked and wrote about her Irish heritage, her grandparents, her parents, her brothers and sisters, her years teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, the uncles and grandfather I never knew, and much, much more. She told stories with such vivid detail that I could picture everything – even the orange that she was so excited to receive at the bottom of her Christmas stocking one year. She made me realize, mostly subconsciously, that nothing in life is more important than family and she planted in me the desire to keep our family history alive and our traditions strong.

First, Our Christmas Traditions…

How to create family traditions

Many of the traditions that I have passed on to my family from my Grama revolve around Christmas. Christmas was her favorite time of year and of course, it is also mine.

Casey has written about Cookie Day several times, and it continues to be one of our most beloved annual family traditions. My Grama started this tradition using many of the cookie recipes that were passed on from her mother, and we still use those same recipes (Coconut Crispies and Cowboy Cookies are reader faves!).

Cookie Day 2019
Cookie Day 2019

Over the years, this small family event has turned into a bigger gathering, with friends and loved ones participating. We start at noon and bake and decorate until the last cookie is finished. Of all the traditions that our family observes, I hope that this is the one that will continue long after I’m gone. (I’m looking at you Harry, Ryan, Casey, and Liz!)

Our Handmade Christmas Stockings

Rory's Christmas stocking

Another important tradition passed on from my Grama are the Christmas stockings that adorn my fireplace mantle. Lucky for me, since I don’t sew, I have a bunch of extra stockings that my Grama made over the years. When one of my kids marries or a new baby is born, I repurpose an old stocking with a new name, so that they all match, and our tradition continues.

Family Christmas Picture

family christmas card
Christmas Card – 1996
Christmas Card – 2016
Christmas Card - 2021
Christmas Card – 2021

One more Christmas tradition that I look forward to every year, is taking the family photo for our Christmas card. It’s been fun to watch my family grow as spouses, children, and dogs have been added! I keep a card every year so I can look back and view them all while reminiscing.

A Christmas Tree of Special Ornaments

I always say, “No ornament is too ugly for my Christmas tree.” What that really means is that no matter what, if one of my children, grandchildren. or a friend makes or gives me an ornament, it has a permanent home on my tree.

My first Christmas ornament

I have macaroni ornaments that my kids made from the 1980s and handprints of my grandbabies, along with Ninja Turtles, Bart Simpson, Charlie Brown, Mr. Potato Head and so much more!

Ornament from 1978

I also buy a dated ornament, every year, for my tree, and my oldest one goes back to 1978! Yikes! The end result, I believe, is a beautiful tree, with memories that span lifetimes!

Helping a Family at Christmas

How to create family traditions

A newer tradition, that we have started in the last few years, has proven to be something meaningful for all of us. My kids decided that instead of buying Christmas gifts for each other, they would use the money that they would have spent, to give a deserving family a lovely Christmas. One family member goes to this website shortly after Thanksgiving, to peruse letters written to Santa by families in need.

After reading many of the letters, which are mostly written by children, that person picks out a family and then others go shopping!  The letters usually spell out the ages, sizes, and particular Christmas wishes of the family members, so shopping is pretty easy. Then, the items are all brought back to my place, and I do the wrapping. After that, another couple of family members box up the gifts and take them to the post office to mail them off before Christmas.

There are a lot of steps to this process – selecting, shopping, wrapping, shipping – so it’s perfect for a group like ours. We can divide and conquer and have fun along the way. Plus, there is such a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that our small endeavors allow another family to have a joyful Christmas.

My Morning Email

Jan writing her morning email and creating family traditions

Every weekday morning for the last 21+ years, I have written a morning email to my children. The ritual started in August of 2000, when my oldest, Harry, went off to college. I wanted to keep him in the loop about everything going on at home, so I would send a “newsy” email each morning. As each successive child went off to college, they became email recipients, as well. Gradually, as significant others came into the family and then grandchildren, they were all added, one by one. These morning emails have become sort of a family history/family diary and they allow us to look back at any moment in time to see what was happening in our family and in the world.

New Baby Journal

Jan and Rory
With Rory in 2020

Along that same vein, as soon as I found out that I would be welcoming a new grandchild into the world, I made the decision to write, daily, to tell that new family member about the world, about our family history, and to let them know how much they are wanted and loved. These journals gave me the perfect opportunity to talk to my grandchildren about current events, my personal experiences in life, and to pass on stories that had been passed on to me. I hope that these written documents will keep our family history alive for generations to come.

Cousins on the Front Stoop

cousins on the front steps
Cousin Pic – 2021

A tradition that I look forward to each year is our “front stoop picture.” This tradition started when my own children were little, and we would visit my parents for holidays. All of the cousins would gather, and we would take a picture of them sitting together on my parents’ front stoop. (Inevitably, someone would be crying or refusing to cooperate, but that only made the pictures more appealing.)

How to create family christmas traditions

We have recreated that tradition with my grandchildren when we gather together at Thanksgiving, and then I display the photos, year by year, with my Christmas decorations.

Annual Family Trip

My mom with her grandkids
Farm Trip – 2021

At least once a year, we all gather together for a family vacation, and over the years, these weeks have been some of the most memorable and enjoyable times in my life. The destination changes – we have been on ski vacations in the Rockies to beach vacations in the Florida Keys – but as long as we are all together, it doesn’t seem to matter where we are.

our farm trip 2020
Farm Trip – 2020

For the last few years, we have been gathering at my daughter-in-law, Sarah’s, family farm, in Wisconsin. It has proven to be a magical place for a family vacation, with activities for all ages. I am hopeful that we will be able to continue this tradition in the years to come. Thanks, Sarah, and now Ryan too!

Our Family Baptismal Gown

April 2021 Rory's baptism
Rory’s Baptism

My Grama was a talented seamstress, and she made a gorgeous, hand-stitched baptismal gown, that we continue to use over and over. The gown is close to 70 years old and it has been worn by my cousins, myself, my brother and sisters, my own children, and most of my nieces and nephews. Most of my Grama’s great-great-grandchildren (my grandchildren) have worn the gown, and I hope that they will eventually pass it down to the next generation. We keep pictures of every baby who has worn the gown in the box, with the date of their baptism.

Holiday & Birthday Celebrations

Thanksgiving meals together

Until the last few years, when I downsized and moved into the city, I would host every holiday and most family birthday celebrations. Since my family continues to grow and my space has gotten much smaller, I have handed off many of the holiday gatherings to my children and it has been wonderful! Not only do I enjoy a whole lot less work for myself, but my children and their spouses get a chance to shine and to make the holiday their own. I always feel grateful and proud when I gather at one of my children’s homes for a celebration. Even if they may not recognize it yet, they are continuing traditions and handing them on to future generations. What could be better than that?

Sleepovers at Grama’s House

Sleepovers with the grandkids

Finally, a tradition that I have begun with my grandchildren are sleepovers at Grama’s house! Every couple of months, Harry and Janie come for a sleepover while Harry and Jackie get a little break. (Rory will soon be joining us, and eventually Ellis!)

Sleepovers with my grandkids

It’s kind of funny to me, but these times together have evolved into a regular routine. The kids enjoy doing the same things again and again and again! We usually have an activity – like making cookies or going to the playground. Then, we play with all Grama’s toys, housed in the toybox. We watch the same movies – either “Moana” or “Frozen” – and we eat McDonald’s Happy Meals for dinner. After dinner, I give them a very long bubble bath and they play with all of the toys in the tub. Then, we read some books and it’s lights out.

In the morning, we eat breakfast, build a fort in Grama’s room and watch “Madagascar”. Eventually, it’s time to head home and then we look forward to the next sleepover! These times alone with my grandkids are so much fun and they give me a chance to interact with them in a completely different way than when their parents are around! They always laugh when I tell them, “Grama’s rules and Grama rules!”

My Tips to Create Family Traditions

Create your own family traditions

I’d like to emphasize that “family” has a different definition for everyone, so please, use your own definition to create meaningful traditions that will work for you and your situation. Your “family” might be composed of close friends or neighbors or a community to which you belong. The feeling of being loved and accepted by a group of people is the most important aspect of “family”, not the blood relationship. Do what works for you and make memories along the way. And here are a few ideas about creating traditions.

  1. Try some things. You will never know what might become a tradition until you have a chance to try something out. You may love it and want to create it year after year OR you might decide to ditch and try something different. Just get started!
  2. Follow your passions. Most traditions continue on and on because the originator was passionate about the first event! Follow your passions; invite others to join and see what happens!
  3. Plan ahead. The only way a tradition continues is with proper planning. If you want to recreate a particular event, put it on the calendar and let people know about it way ahead of time.

What Are Your Family Traditions?

So, there you have it – some of my most precious family traditions. And now, I know Casey would love it if you could share some of your favorite traditions in the comment section below. And remember…it’s never too late to start a meaningful family tradition and build long-lasting memories!

Jan