Throughout the difficult times in life, traditions can keep us grounded in a less painful reality. Traditions can give us hope and continuity. They hold the memories of our past, ground us in the present, and give us a vision for a peaceful future. The most important thing about traditions is that they help us build a sense of belonging and community.
Regardless of their origins, traditions are powerful. They give us a sense of anticipation of what happens throughout the year. Traditions serve as a framework that creates our memories and the stories of our lives.
Think of that moment when a family tradition that everyone expects is changed. Throughout the global pandemic, many of us have experienced readjustment. It is almost as if we lose part of history and the profound memories of our family. There is a sense of loss of those powerful shared moments of family and community. We could not gather and share a meal, create art together, or share stories of the people who have left us. We may not have decorated our homes or taken out the cherished artifacts that reclaim our share history.
When we weave traditions into our family’s tapestry or an early childhood program, we represent a critical part of our collective culture. If we ignore our traditions’ meanings, we are in danger of denying our identities.
- Define and hold our cultural values
- Contribute a sense of comfort and belonging, bringing families together and enabling people to reconnect with friends
- Provide a forum to showcase role models and celebrate the things that truly matter in life
- Offer a chance to say “thank you” for the contribution people have made
- Serve as an avenue for creating memories for our families and friends
- Offer an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection
Learning from Shared Traditions
I have asked my college students, family, and friends to share their traditions for the past thirty years. Some of the traditions shared were painful; others were joyful. However, they all shared that moment of connection when you feel part of something bigger than yourself. The same is true for children and families who have attended an early childhood program that has woven traditions into their daily, monthly, and yearly practices. I remember a tradition that one of my college students shared, Te de Canela (cinnamon tea). In tears, she told us how they did not have a permanent home and lived in shelters or with relatives as a child. Yet, her mother will always boil water with cinnamon and sugar to make tea. The smell of cinnamon reminded her of how her mother always made them feel that they belonged and that family was always present.
Traditions Can Keep Us Grounded
In today’s fast-moving society, traditions can serve as the long-lasting glue that grounds children to make connections and accept life’s unexpected discoveries. Early childhood programs can create powerful traditions that bring the community together. I remember the many traditions shared at Children’s Circle Nursery School, my children’s early childhood program. There was the feast a day when families served the children and educators and collectively created an opportunity to share food and laughter. There was also a daily ritual in which children started “the mix” of snacks to share. When children were getting ready to move on to kindergarten, they got to eat their lunch in the loft to recognize their growth. I remember the cup of coffee I had every morning as I dropped off my daughters. I have powerful memories of how the families were invited to gather and talk with each other. Educators thoughtfully create every tradition and intend to create a community with the children, families, and educators.
As you can see, traditions are long-lasting and life-changing. Early childhood education programs can work together to build impactful traditions that sustain their ecosystem. I have created a free ebook to enjoy and be inspired by planning, designing, and implementing traditions in your programs. I have created an EBook with ideas to get you started.
Beyond Commercial Representation of the Holydays
Social media images are about crafts and lessons of the different holidays. These perspectives seldom make a clear connection to the meaning of the holiday to the young children and families in the different early childhood ecosystem. For instance, in the United States, we have seen an increase in celebrating the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). a life-affirming joyful time when families demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members. People are appropriating the costumes and dressing like Catrinas and skeletons. Party stores have commercialized the holiday to increase sales. However, these appropriations fail to give the true meaning of the holiday.
We are now preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. In the process, are we recognizing the meaning of the holiday for the native people of this land? For many Native People, Thanksgiving day is a day of mourning. It is a reminder of the cruelty and genocide of millions of Native people and the theft of the Native lands. Instead of continuing to represent the “pilgrims and Indians” narrative and continuing the illusion of unity, we can focus on the meanings that are common to all people. The idea of togetherness, generosity, and gratitude. Discuss with children the meaning of gratitude and how sharing a meal is a time to get together and celebrate each person. Find things that you can all do together. Cook a special dish that can be shared. Children can work together on a non-cost social justice project. Start planting a winter garden or creating cards to bring to the elders in the community. Thanksgiving, when inclusively celebrated, is a critical time to be grateful and recognize the gifts of nature.
As you consider celebrating the winter holidays, Find the common elements of each holiday. For instance, light is central in most of the winter holidays. Create a celebration of light and how it brings warmth to our living spaces. Have LED candles in the ecosystem. Explore lights and shadows. Read books about light and how it helps people. Sing songs about light and have conversations about spending time together.
One last note to reflect on. Consider that children and families in the ecosystem may not have the financial resources to bring food and contribute to food drives or gift exchanges. To be inclusive, we must consider the whole child.
The most important part of celebrating holidays is making a clear connection to our families. Do not just send a questionnaire asking what holidays they celebrate. Instead, ask about the traditions they create as a family. You do not need to fall into the “Holiday Dilemma.” With sensitivity, compassion, and understanding, you can help each child feel included.