Family Traditions by Dr. Laura Markham

Rituals and Traditions That Bring Families Closer

“The goal of rituals is connection. Rituals create sacred space designated for togetherness and unity.” – Becky A. Bailey, Ph.D.

Why do families need rituals?

What’s a ritual?  It’s a routine with meaning.  Children love ritual.  Repetition, the comfort of belonging, the sense of wonder, magic, and celebration — all Photo: Phil Cantorcreate a bonding experience that nurtures both kids and parents.  Rituals hold families together.

Why do we need rituals?  It’s primal.  They help us move emotionally from one place to another; they ease pain, acknowledge growth, and create connection. 

Rituals are invaluable to families, as most parents discover.  Daily rituals like bedtime stories and goodbye hugs make separations easier and provide comfort and security. Traditions like taking a picture on the front steps on the first day of school and letting kids stay up till midnight on New Year’s Eve help children integrate the changes of the year. Rituals like bar mitzvahs and Christmas Eve mass communicate values in a visceral way.

In a secular culture, many parents who don’t relate  to organized religion find that rituals and traditions give the sense of meaning and anchoring they seek.  All rituals reinforce values and create connection.

Studies show that happy families not only have treasured traditions, they evolve new ones that help them find their way through the inevitable changes of growing up, as well as create warm bonds and a sense of security.

“The idea of starting a family tradition sounds overwhelming.”

Don’t worry, your family already has its own traditions, from Sunday morning pancakes to observing holidays in a certain way. The way you celebrate birthdays, mark the passing of pet or observe a special day, the way you say goodbye to each other every morning or shop for fall clothes each school year; all are the stuff of which memories are made.


“Ok, but how do I create traditions that nurture family connected-ness?”

Creating new traditions that work for your family is a simple matter.  Try something new, and if you like it, repeat it.  Then begin to talk about it and look forward to it with the whole family.  Eventually, that tradition will take on a life of its own and will become a sustaining part of your family’s culture.

“And what about rituals?  Are they different?”  We might think of rituals as a tradition carried out in a more sacred way, usually the same way every time. Singing the Chanuka blessings or saying Grace before meals are obvious examples, but so are singing Happy Birthday and blowing out candles.  It may not seem that “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” is sacred, but all repetitious chants  are essentially prayers, satisfying a primal human need. Kids love rituals and gain a sense of safety from them.

“Are rituals easy to create?”  You don’t need to do anything fancy. Most rituals use either the lighting of candles or the repetition of a phrase or song as an invocation, or a beginning.  Sometimes that’s all there is to them, as in the case of a particular goodbye saying.  Other rituals, like going around the table at Thanksgiving to say what we’re thankful for, have “content.”  And virtually all have a closing, signaling that sacred space is over and we return to daily life, as when the birthday candles are blown out, or we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer.


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