I asked my seventeen-year-old daughter for some examples of what she thought our traditions are. She is very much a foodie, so I was expecting things like:
- Each person in our family chooses a pie to make the day before Thanksgiving. This results in way too much pie, but a whole lot of fun, a very messy kitchen, and some crazy flavor combinations.
- We have a Greek dinner on Christmas Eve. Nope, we aren’t Greek. We don’t even have a good story about why we do this. (I should get on that! I’m sure I could come up with SOMETHING!)
- The birthday boy or girl always gets to pick their favorite dinner, and just for one time during that year (LOL!) no one can complain about having it. I think one year she had mashed potatoes, French fries, and potato soup. No joke. And this was before we moved to Idaho potato country. I KNOW that we have a 7 course menu for her birthday last year. But I digress . . .
Instead though, maybe she was buttering me up (Christmas is coming after all) but the things she mentioned were that we read a few paragraphs of the Conference Ensign together and say morning family prayers before we all set off in the world, that we kneel in family prayer at night and each person shares a prayer after we study in the Book of Mormon, and that we ALWAYS have dinner together. As she put it, “We just spend a lot of time together.” (Oh, she’s good. Where is that Christmas list, I think I need to add a few things to it . . .)
Now obviously, there are LOTS of things that could be so much better than they are at our house.
For example, I have always wished to be a mom that has never yelled at her kids. I’ve sort of given up on that, and I’m working on just not yelling more than once a week at this point. Baby steps, right?
Plus, the bane of my existence has been that I’m just not that good at keeping my house spotless. Oh, I’m a pro at a crisis clean,
“AHHHHH! PEOPLE ARE COMING IN 5 MINUTES PEOPLE!”
I can clear out a room like rocket full of bees. But the everyday,
“Of course, come in! No, there’s no sticky wrappers, piles of dishes, or mounds of laundry in your way, of course not.”
Hmmm . . . yeah, no so good.
BUT!! HOLD ON!
We spend time together as a family.
We do silly and not silly traditions that tie us back to each other and tie us back to Heavenly Father. And that’s kind of the point right? President Nelson recently taught, “The word religion literally means “to ligate again” or “to tie back” to God.” The church “rituals” that we participate in have purpose, to remind us of who we are and where we came from. When we forget the purpose, the rituals have no meaning and become burdensome.
The same is true in families. Sometimes we spend time and effort on things that don’t matter. On the other hand, sometimes taking a little extra time to make some beautiful and sparkly and special is worth it and creates those traditions and memories. It’s all about perspective.
“Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.” 2 Nephi 9:51.
Somewhere out there, there is a family who has at least some traditions that actually revolve around having a spotless house, and I think that’s awesome. Traditions don’t have to be the same, because part of their awesomeness is that the particular recipe for traditions at your house is going to be different from everyone else—it’s what sets your family apart and gives it a signature. What is worth the time and effort in one family might not be a good plan in another.
So how do you know a good family tradition worth spending time and effort on when you see it? How do you incorporate it in your family in a positive way?
I’m so glad you asked, because now we get to talk about one of my favorite subjects, chocolate.
I heard recently about a study that involved chocolate. So, obviously, I was completely interested in that! I mean, what could be a better means of probing, intellectual, and apparently a brilliant scientific study than one involving chocolate, right???
Basically, the experiment involved two groups. The first group was given very specific instructions, namely, “Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.”
The second group were just allowed to be free spirits about the whole thing and eat the bar without any instructions. There were buttons to push, surveys to take, and overall just a lot of “mathy” type things that went on after the cool chocolate-eating part, but suffice it to say, the researchers could prove a couple of things about these two groups of people.
First, the eaters who made the experience more of a ritual reported more satisfaction and enjoyment, that the chocolate was more flavorful, and that it was more valuable to them, in that they were willing to pay more for the chocolate than was the second group.
Now, interestingly enough, in another related experiment, these brilliant little researchers weren’t finished. This time they tested whether it made a difference if the subject just observed a ritual or whether they actually participated in the ritual before partaking of this time, delicious lemonade.
The first group followed specific instructions on preparing and mixing the lemonade, while the second group simply watched someone do it for them.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the subject’s own involvement that was the key to an increased perception of delicious flavor.
The takeway from these two studies?
A tradition that is just handed to your family on a silver platter (even when it’s chocolate) is not going to mean as much as when your “subject” is allowed to have hands on participation in the experience. This seems a pretty important point that I need to remember with the holidays coming up. The holidays are completely full of traditions, but sometimes can become overwhelming when as Moms, we try too hard to make everything perfect and tied up with a beautiful bow. This is especially true when we are making our families miserable to create the “perfect” Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The LDS church organization is a great example of this concept. Heavenly Father knows that when we are invested and involved, not only do great things happen, but we enjoy the experience more and grow closer to Him. When we participate in Sacrament meeting, in ordinances, in sacrifices of paying tithing and giving our time in service, what we are really doing is engaging in our heavenly family traditions that remind us of home and where we came from.
As a missionary mom, sometimes it is tempting to think that my missionary is “missing out” on traditions at home while he is out serving the Lord. In actuality, it is our missionaries that are great examples of carrying out the tradition of service to our Heavenly Father’s children and helping all of us to be able to return and live with Him again. They miss us, but they are in the middle of unwrapping that “chocolate” and savoring every bite for the short time they are asked to do so. Our job, whether it’s with our missionaries or with anyone else that we love, is to lovingly support them and yet know when to step back enough to let them mix their own lemonade so that they can experience the full flavor of the Gospel for themselves.
“If we will build righteous traditions in our families, the light of the gospel can grow ever brighter in the lives of our children from generation to generation. We can look forward to that glorious day when we will all be united together as eternal family units to reap the everlasting joy promised by our Eternal Father for His righteous children.
Our family activities and traditions can be a beacon to the rest of the world as an example of how we should live to merit His choice blessings and live in peace and harmony until the day that He returns to rule and reign over us.”
Family traditions can be spiritual, academic, cultural, social, or a mixture of all of the above. If we spend our time wisely and remember the purpose of a particular tradition, we allow room for inspiration to let us know what to keep and what to let go, how much to do ourselves, and how much to take a step back and let our loved ones be at the center of the experience. I can tell already that it’s going to be a great holiday season.
Share your ideas for family traditions and thoughts with me below, and sign up to follow along with the blog.
Now, I need to go eat some chocolate.
 Russell M. Nelson, April 2014 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/let-your-faith-show?lang=eng.
 Check out the study here: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/vohs%20wang%20gino%20norton.pdf
 Elder L. Tom Perry, April 1990 General Conference: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1990/04/family-traditions?lang=eng