family + parenting · traditions

My personal policy for family traditions

A few weeks ago, I crouched down next to the dollar bins at the front of my local Target, a chalkboard back-to-school sign in my hand.

Every year, throughout August and early September, my social media feed gets filled with first-day-of-school photos of the adorable children of my family and friends. This year, Edgar started kindergarten. So when I held that back-to-school sign in my hands, I was considering whether or not I wanted to purchase it for a first day photo for him.

I realized that this moment – choosing whether or not to buy a chalkboard sign for this occasion – demonstrated a little bit of the push/pull I feel when it comes to family traditions and rituals. Because I’m not sure if I care about taking first day of kindergarten/last day of kindergarten photos of my kids – this year or during any school year.

To be clear, I think the photos are ADORABLE. I don’t think there’s anything bad about photos like these at all. And even if I didn’t like them, I would respect and celebrate any family’s use of them as a back-to-school ritual.

But I know myself, and I don’t always have the bandwidth for even something simple like a front step photo. I have two kids; one of them likes to smile for photos and the other one doesn’t. I don’t know if I want to add the expectation of smiling (or staying still) for a photo to an emotionally-charged first day of school.

Add to that, Tamara and I strive to keep our home a minimalist household. It doesn’t always work, and we are far from where we want to be with that quest, but it’s a goal and I try to be mindful of that when making choices about purchases. Do I really need a chalkboard back-to-school sign that we only use once or twice a year?

I decided that we didn’t. (We can always make a cardboard or construction paper sign if we want to do the picture.) I left the store, still undecided about the photo, destined to overthink it a little bit more as our countdown to kindergarten continued.

I’m an overthinker in general, and if I let myself go crazy, I can really overthink things like traditions, rituals, and holidays. I’ve blogged previously about my struggle with Easter traditions and choosing how to celebrate that holiday. I truly love traditions, routines, and rituals. I love the rhythm and magic they provide to my life and my family. Yet I have so many mixed feelings about the minor and major holidays we celebrate throughout the year.

St. Patrick’s Day is a good example. When I was a kid, I wore SPD clothes and brought shamrock stickers to school and shared them with friends and wore them on my face for SPD. But that was because my family of origin is Irish, and we liked to celebrate our heritage on that day. These days, there’s allllll this stuff with leprechauns that I don’t remember ever seeing while I was growing up. It is super cute and fun! But I don’t feel obligated – nor do I think anyone else should – to turn my toilet water green or pretend a leprechaun came to visit my house. I might feel differently this year; Edgar is five, and he might have fun with a leprechaun visit, and I am all about anything that makes him smile and feel joy. I also love holidays and celebrating. But I don’t like feeling like something like this is a “have-to” – because it’s definitely not.

I decided that I needed a personal policy for family traditions to keep myself from becoming overwhelmed with all the possibilities and shoulds. My unwritten-until-now rules for family traditions are:

  • Do nothing because you’re “supposed to” do it.
  • Be creative – avoid making every celebration about gifts or desserts.
  • Align traditions with our family values.
  • Keep it simple. The tradition should either be a) really easy to implement or b) so awesome that you don’t mind the effort.

These rules speak for themselves, and I find them really comforting. I am a scatterbrained person in general; add parenting two boys to the mix and I often don’t know what month it, let alone what holiday is right around the corner. Taking time to reflect on what matters to me is invaluable.

With the beginning of the school year and the approach of the fall/winter holiday season, l am thinking a lot about traditions, routines, and rituals. More thoughts on these topics to come!

Photo by Pixabay on

A few thoughts on traditions, rituals, and family culture

For years, I’ve had a drafted blog post all about family traditions. The post has never been ready to share with others, and it’s still not finished. There is so much to write about when it comes to family traditions, and it’s a topic that I think about a lot.

What we do as a family to celebrate – all the little rituals and routines we practice – these are the things that create our family culture, our children’s childhood memories. There are the traditions we continue from our own families of origin, traditions we intentionally institute on our own, and then the happy accidental traditions that happen once and then we keep it going.

The blog post I’ve been writing has taken a bunch of different forms during drafting. Currently, it looks like a summary of the traditions we practice currently or aspire to institute for all of the events and holidays in a calendar year. Yet the post never feels quite ready to publish. Here’s why:

  • It’s overwhelming to write about an entire year of traditions – birthdays, milestones, adoption days – in one post.
  • We don’t know what all of our traditions are yet. Our kids are young – 5 and 3, with a little (adoptive) child on the way at some point – and when the kids are really little, you have time to experiment with different routines and rituals. While Edgar was younger, we did a lot of experimenting – trying out different traditions and seeing how they fit our family. Sometimes we’re still doing that.
  • Certain traditions don’t really get going until milestones are met – meaning, we won’t know how tooth fairy magic works in our house until Edgar loses a tooth!
  • I have a lot of mixed feelings about certain holidays and traditions that I sometimes feel pressured to celebrate.

I find family traditions fascinating and so fun. I love hearing about what other families do and either stealing the idea or just enjoying the glimpse into that family’s culture. I also love the process of cultivating family traditions – the decisions and memories and logistics and compromise that go into deciding how a family celebrates. When it comes to our own process for adopting family traditions, it usually involves a lot of (over)thinking on my end and occasionally includes happy accidents.

My hope moving forward is to break down this topic a little more and explain the little ways we celebrate each holiday and season and my thought process behind it – including some of my mixed feelings and how I handle them. Stay tuned!

Photo by Flora Westbrook on

goals · traditions

July 2020: Traditions + Celebrations + Rituals All Year Long

I am excited about this post. But – I’ve been procrastinating about it for a long time.

The thing is – I really want to be a person who celebrates holidays and festivities in a sweet and thoughtful way. But it doesn’t always work out.

The main roadblock is that I’m not really a planner. I’m working on it, for sure; my two resolutions for 2020 were to improve my photography habits (HARD FAIL on that one) and to think/plan ahead. And it’s been better this year than previously. But left to my own devices, I am more likely to realize St. Patrick’s Day is coming on March 17 than on March 10. I get caught up in my day-to-day life and I just forget.

Having kids has helped me in this respect. I feel motivated to teach them about holidays and to make plans to celebrate, and thus I am better at planning ahead. Better – but still not great.

So my goal for this month is to really think about the kinds of traditions, celebrations, and rituals I want for our family all year long. I have a few books to look through, some notes I’ve jotted down over the past few years, and I’m excited to give this topic some thought.

Happy July!  Ritual Numero Uno – summertime equals sunshine, sand, and ocean. Looking forward to (distanced) beach days and river hikes all summer long.

body of water between green leaf trees
Photo by Ian Turnell on


family · traditions

How To Be Santa Claus – Part 1

Every December, I think a lot about Santa Claus.

My kids are still little enough that our family approach to Santa is evolving. Tamara and I talked a lot before having kids about how we would handle The Santa Claus Thing, and it raised a whole bunch of issues that I hadn’t thought about previously.

For example: Did you know that there are different ways to be Santa Claus? I only found this out a few years ago, and it was like Finding Out The Truth About Santa Part Two!

When I was a kid, I thought every family’s approach was pretty standard. There is a Santa; he’s a strong presence from birth until sometime during the school-aged years. He flies around the world magically on Christmas Eve and he delivers presents to all the “good” boys and girls. His arrival at your house is ALWAYS sometime between your bedtime and the time you wake up in the morning, even if you only sleep for four hours. You leave out a letter for him asking for a certain list of gifts for Christmas, and you leave out milk and cookies.

Pretty standard, right?  I think my family had one of the more common approaches to The Santa Claus Thing, although maybe I just think that since it’s the way I grew up. But it turns out that there are families who make different choices about how to be Santa Claus and how to treat Santa Claus in their homes.

The first time I learned about this was in college. My friend from the Midwest told me that she’d always opened her Santa gifts on Christmas Eve, and that her parents had explained to her that Santa’s task – delivering toys to every kid in the world while they were sleeping – was so challenging that some kids had to get their presents on Christmas Eve. (I am pretty sure her parents liked to sleep in on Christmas morning, and A+ to them for figuring out how to make it happen!) When she shared this, I thought it was interesting, but didn’t think much more about it.

I may have heard about other family versions of Santa over the years, but the next time I really thought about it was when Tamara and I discussed how we’d handle the Santa thing. She explained that in her house, Santa filled the stockings, and maybe brought one other present. The rest of the gifts were from her parents.

I thought that was interesting, too. In my childhood home, every thing we opened on Christmas morning was from Santa. We opened our Santa gifts on Christmas morning, and then our Santa stockings on Christmas evening when we got home from celebrating at my aunt’s house. It never occurred to me that you could decide, as a parent, which presents Santa brought and which presents your kids knew were gifts from you.

Once I started thinking about it and asking about it, I found so many different versions of Santa. My sister’s close friends have exactly one present under their tree from Santa – THE present that the kid asked for when he went to see Santa and sat on Santa’s lap. A lot of families do this, and the ONE Santa present is based on what they tell Santa in person or what they write in their letter to Santa. I talked to another parent who handles Santa this way, and says that it really helps with the gift wrapping process; if the kids know that they are going to receive several gifts from their parents, then you don’t have to be quite so undercover. You can honestly say to the kids, “Don’t go in my closet,” without raising suspicions about Santa – because they know you’re buying and wrapping certain gifts for them. Of course, the other reason to only have one gift be from Santa is so that you get CREDIT for providing joys and toys to your kids on Christmas, and that’s legit as well.

Tamara and I have sort of settled in on Santa bringing stockings and maybe one gift to our boys. We decided that last year, when Edgar was 2 and Jonas was three months old, and it was pretty funny. I didn’t really think about which presents would go into Edgar’s stocking. For me, it makes the most sense for things to go in the stocking that are small or squishy. So last year, Edgar’s presents from Santa included socks, underwear, and a toothbrush, because THAT IS WHAT FIT PROPERLY IN HIS STOCKING. This year, I thought ahead a little more, and Santa is going to be much less practical.

Edgar didn’t write a letter to Santa this year – maybe next year? – but every week he makes a semi-formal announcement letting me know what he’s getting for Christmas this year. It changes periodically, but I’m not too worried about it, because he’s three and any pile of presents is going to be well-received on Christmas morning.

I have many, many thoughts about Santa, which is why this is Part 1 in my How To Be Santa series. I wish I could tell you when Part 2 would be posted; I can promise it will either by this coming Saturday, later this month, or the end of next year. Stay tuned!

santa clause figurine
Photo by Public Domain Pictures on