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I’ve always been quite nostalgic about my traditions. For example, I’ve kept school work that I made good grades on from kindergarten through college. I’ve also left my Christmas decorations up just a little too long each year and turned birthday cards into decorations. While dating my husband, I kept every love letter he gave me (and still do). 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued some of the traditions I grew up with. And As COVID-19 and quarantine have taken us all by surprise, I’ve found my husband, Tyler, and I challenged to create some new traditions

Since we heard time and time again from couples married for a few months to 30+ years to never stop dating your spouse, we try to have a date night every week—if not every other week. My husband and I loved this advice because I’m a sentimental sap and he is definitely a charming romantic (the kind of guy who sets out a hundred candles, bakes brownies and pours a glass of wine because he knows you’re having a bad day).

I’ll be honest, COVID-19 put a wrench in our date night traditions at first. We were busy navigating a new normal and because we were spending non-stop time together, setting aside date night time didn’t cross our minds. It took us about two weeks to figure out something felt a little off. We realized we had pushed aside something we always looked forward to—dating! Since going out to dinner and some activities were off the table, we had to get creative with our date night traditions.

We didn’t want to sacrifice something that kept the spark in our relationship glowing. No matter the circumstances, for better or for worse, we needed to show each other how much we love each other. We signed up for that when we committed our lives to each other. 

Just because we are spending 24/7 together, doesn’t mean we are spending it intentionally. Especially if we weren’t differentiating quality time together (date night) from the every-day-in-house hustle. 

We have been way more creative with our date night traditions out of necessity to keep the spark in our relationship. We’ve felt closer because of that. A big change that’s happened is going from, “What kind of food are you craving?” to “What does our relationship need this week?”

Is it some carefreeness because it’s been a stressful week? Okay, turn the living room into a dance floor, move the coffee table, pull up YouTube, and learn some new moves.

Maybe we haven’t had a meaningful heart-to-heart and date night looks like turning off all electronics, lighting some candles, and having intentional conversations. Here are some conversation starters:

  1. What has been on your mind?
  2. When did you make each other laugh this week?
  3. What have you been thinking about beyond work? 
  4. Have I done anything this week to make you feel loved and is there something I can do more of?
  5. What are your dreams right now?  
  6. What can make our sex life better? How can we make each other feel confident and vulnerable?

It could be simple as we miss dressing up and getting a nice meal at our favorite place so we get takeout, use the nice plates and glasses, light some candles, and change into a nice outfit. Our new favorite spot is our patio with a speaker, candles and card-playing games. 

We have also done some really sweet virtual date nights you can do, too!

I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in expectations. “We normally do this and it works so we should do it like this again.” In these “should” moments, we don’t leave room for something new and creative to happen. Look what happened when we stepped outside of just going through the motions! 

We have had a blast being challenged to change up how we pursue each other. It’s even been good for our relationship. I hope you and yours take the time to find what works best for you. If you do, I hope you have lots of fun along the way! 

Keep dating—even while in quarantine!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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Despite our lives feeling like they’re at a standstill in quarantine, the hand on the clock is steadfast with its ticking! So, I continued my tradition of decorating for the new season. (Plus a change in scenery, even if it’s just on our walls, lifted my morale.) I stuck in the last thumbtack and stood a few feet from the wall to see my spring banner is almost centered if you squint your eyes just enough. Each season has its own set of decorations and its list of family traditions to complement them in my family. 

It’s not that I didn’t want to be creative or find new ways to do weekly rituals or enjoy special occasions, it’s just that I was getting comfortable in quarantine and didn’t feel the need to. The sentimental value of doing traditions the same way before COVID-19 has outweighed the notion of getting creative and starting new ones since this quarantine happened. So, it can be easy to default to a place where there are NO traditions anymore.

While waiting and hoping for the dust to settle, we have gone out of our way to keep the peace in a constantly full house. We stir up laughter to distract from the stress. We try to be intentional about keeping in touch with friends and family we’ve been separated from.

Things that initially felt like coping mechanisms transitioned into traditions. 

Maybe without even meaning to, you’ve started new traditions with your family during the quarantine. 

Without warning, and surprisingly with a natural stride, we have stepped into a season of firsts and starting new traditions. We have all adapted out of necessity and some good is coming from it.

Traditions aren’t limited to the holidays. They can be a continuation of the intentional time you’ve spent with your family. There are daily, weekly and monthly activities you can continue (or start) after you answer the questions below. 

The questions are meant to help you reflect on your time in quarantine and make purposeful decisions on what you want your time to look like after.

  • What have you learned about your family during this time? 
  • What has inspired them to change out of pajamas into dressier clothes?
  • Have you noticed times where your kids have held on to you a little longer? 
  • Has your spouse passionately kissed you? Was it after a long-overdue conversation you finally had time to have? 
  • When have you felt loved? 
  • What have you and your family enjoyed filling your time with? Game night, pizza on Wednesdays, stories before bed, or movie marathons?
  • When have you seen your kids’ faces light up? Did they try something new or did you teach them a new skill? Did they help make dinner one night of the week?
  • When have you and your family wanted to do something again? 

If you want a few more ideas for some family traditions, here you go! 

  • Have a designated day each week for game night.
  • Make a secret handshake with each of your kids.
  • If you don’t eat together as a family every night, choose a night to do this. If you already do, choose a night where someone else helps cook.
  • Start a thankfulness journal and each week share with each other what you are grateful for and read it at the end of the year.
  • Have a family dance party on the weekends.
  • Start a monthly talent show or show and tell. If you have older kids, have them present something they’re interested in or a place they want to travel to and why.
  • Evening walks.
  • Movie night.
  • Special breakfast on Saturdays.
  • Full moon adventure! Every 29 days there’s a full moon. Going to a spot where you can see it well makes for a fun mini-adventure.

This has been a difficult time. Maybe you’ve found new ways to do old things, caught up on some lost time, or learned something new about your family. Despite the uncertainty and challenges COVID-19 brought into your lives, you made the most of it. (It’s never too late to start, either!) 

I hope the new traditions that have come from quarantine continue on for much longer.

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I’ve learned a lot about marriage by fishing. As I watched my two elementary-age daughters fishing in our neighborhood pond yesterday, it reminded me of how my dad passed on his love of fishing to me at an early age, just as his father had passed it on to him. We hand important skills down from generation to generation: how to carry a rod properly, baiting a hook, casting in the right spot, and the pinnacle of all childhood fishing skills—handling the fish and taking it off the hook. (And if you’re in my family, the tradition is to kiss your first fish!)

I proudly watched as my 8-year-old carefully removed her (fourth or fifth) bluegill from her lure. I also watched my 11-year-old practice casting with a fly rod (a much different art than with a traditional rod and reel). Proud daddy moments, for sure.

We also pass marriage skills on to our kids through our example. Children watch their parents carefully. They quickly catch on to how we handle our relationship with our spouse: how we manage disagreements or stress, how we show love and respect, and the way we share family tasks.

Marriage skills aren’t as much taught as they are caught by our children (please pardon the fishing pun). And kids catch both the good and the bad.

I’m proud to say I’ve inherited (and still use) some old rods and reels from both my grandfather and my father. And I plan to pass them on to my daughters and their children. But more importantly, I hope they will inherit from me good relationship skills they can use to strengthen their own future marriages.

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.*** 

When you think about celebrating the holidays, what traditions comes to mind? Baking gingerbread men with your children? Taking the entire family to cut down the family tree the day after Thanksgiving? Or maybe, it’s the extended family progressive dinner that takes place every Christmas Eve.

“Traditions are often what make the holidays meaningful,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, clinical psychologist. “They are like the support beams for a building, communicating to children that in all the rush and seemingly randomness of our lives, there are still some things we hold sacred which remain relatively unchanged over the years.”

These annual celebrations create memories and bring generations together. They give families a structure around which to organize time and events since people are much more likely to take family photos and “rehearse” what transpired as they look back on the photographs and videos.

In an informal survey, we asked about meaningful traditions. Here are a few of the responses.

Many years ago, Betty Bergin began collecting antique crystal candlesticks – one for each of her four children. As children have started their own families, the Bergins have loved finding the crystal treasure that best represents each new addition to the family. Every Christmas Day, the candlesticks fill the center of their Christmas table. When their oldest son found his life mate, he announced it by giving them a crystal candlestick.

“What a precious memory that is to me, that at 31, he saw value in our tradition,” says Bergin.

“My favorite holiday tradition as a child was getting to open one present on Christmas Eve,” says Anne Hooser. “It was the same gift every year – a brand new nightgown. I remember when I was in my late twenties and had not been home for Christmas in many years, my mother sent me a present to be ‘opened Christmas Eve.’ It was a brand new nightgown! When I opened it up I just felt loved.”

For more than 50 years, Lorena Garza Gonzalez’s family has re-enacted the journey of Joseph and Mary in the traditional Mexican “Posada.” Now their children and friends of all ethnic backgrounds and ages help, share and sing to celebrate the occasion, which is followed with tamales, menudo, frijoles borrachos, and many sweet-pleasers.

“Traditions are so important in family,” says Gonzalez. “This is one I hope my children will continue for years to come.”

Special celebrations give families the time and place to discuss what is important to them.

“We often hear people talk about wanting to avoid getting into any discussions that might create conflict at these types of gatherings,” Hickman says. “Some of the best family discussions I can recall occurred during our holiday traditional celebrations. Sometimes there was conflict, but conflict isn’t always bad. Just because people disagree doesn’t mean it has to escalate into a fight or that you don’t love each other. In fact, when children see family members handle conflict appropriately, it is a great lesson for them.”

Consider ways you can incorporate holiday traditions, whether old or new, into your celebrations. It just might keep you focused on the things that really matter. For every family the traditions are different, but they all allow for a greater sense of shared identity and meaning. There is something very comforting about being able to think ahead and anticipate participating in a longstanding family tradition.

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Early in their marriage Susan and Scott* wanted to please both of their families when it came to how they spent time together over the holidays. Her mom wanted them to celebrate Thanksgiving with her. His mom celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, so her mom requested Christmas Day at her house. 

Despite some angst over changing things up with family holiday traditions, it worked fairly well… until their first child came along. Then they realized traveling late on Christmas Eve might not be the best thing for their family. Once again, they wondered how to deal with tradition. 

After negotiating, Susan and Scott decided to stay home for Christmas. Anybody who wanted to join the celebration was welcome. While not without its challenges, this adjustment to tradition held for a number of years—even as siblings married and added more in-laws into the mix. 

Now Scott and Susan’s children are adults with jobs and lives of their own. Once again, Susan and Scott find themselves in a situation where what has worked in the past for holiday celebrations doesn’t seem to fit their current needs. While their parents still want time with them, Susan and Scott also want to celebrate with their own children. Except now, their grown kids only have the actual holiday off. 

How can they be considerate of everyone as they plan to spend time with the ones they love?

Changing family holiday traditions can be complicated, and trying to please everyone can create a stressful holiday season for sure. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a clear understanding of how families can easily transition from one phase to the next?

Since that’s not the case, here are some suggestions for navigating change and experiencing a special holiday season, no matter what stage of life you are in:

  • Instead of pressuring your grown children to keep things the way they have always been, give them the flexibility they need. 
  • Communication is key. Many misunderstandings surrounding the holidays happen because family members base their decisions on assumptions. Instead of being silent, request a family conference call or send out an email telling family members that you can adapt or adjust if necessary.
  • Take responsibility for your own emotions. Change is often difficult. The older you get, the more you realize you have limited time on earth. Although you want to spend more time with family members, they often have busy lives of their own. Acknowledging these feelings is important, and connecting with friends in a similar situation can help.
  • If you are the younger generation, recognize that holiday celebrations/traditions tend to be filled with emotion for everyone. While you’re trying to juggle everything, be patient with your extended family. 
  • Even if being there on the actual holiday isn’t possible, make it a point to celebrate at a different time.

It can be easy to get all worked up about what everyone expects from you during the holidays. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that family members are probably not intentionally seeking to complicate your life. Spend time talking with your spouse and/or family to brainstorm possibilities. Then build a plan that works best, knowing that everybody may not be 100 percent pleased with the end result.

Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

For more than 40 years, Lynn and Pat Panter have been hosting family dinner on Sundays.

“It’s funny, this is just something we have always done,” says Lynn Panter. “When our children were little, we had Sunday dinner. As they got older, we kept on doing it. Here we are 40 years later with grown children, spouses, boyfriends and grandchildren seated around the table.”

Unlike some, the Panters don’t require or expect anyone to come for family dinners.

“There is no pressure to come,” Lynn says. “If they have something else to do, they know they are free to go do it with no repercussions for not being present. We usually have between eight and 16 people seated around the table on any given Sunday.”

Between the laughter, the stories and discussions about their day, it is always a lively experience and a great way for the family to connect.

“Even though my husband was on the road a lot when our daughters were young, the expectation was that we all ate dinner together,” Lynn says. “This was our time to catch up with each other and the events of the day. It kept us connected even when schedules were hectic.”

Research shows that regular and meaningful family meals offer a variety of benefits both to children and adults. Studies suggest that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week positively affects child development and is linked to a lower obesity risk, substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.

Additionally, meals provide a sense of family unity and identity as well as teaching traditions. Discussions around the dinner table not only give children an opportunity to express themselves, they also teach them to wait their turn to speak and hear many different perspectives. In some instances, they learn how to agree or disagree.

Family meals help parents transmit their values from one generation to the next and teach good table manners and etiquette. These times together as a family create a bond and shared memories that children carry with them long into adulthood.

The key to the success of these gatherings is making them technology-free zones – no televisions, tablets, or cellphones allowed.

“Some people probably wonder why we still have the Sunday dinners.” Lynn says. “I think the biggest reason we still do it is because we really enjoy being together. We look forward to catching up with each other. It’s not formal and everybody pitches in — which is a good thing. In order to do something like this, you need to enjoy doing it, otherwise, it becomes a burden.”

If family meals has been on your “to-do” list, this is the time to make it happen. Set a date, keep it simple and watch what happens. Family members, i.e., children, may balk at first, but once they get in the routine, they will look forward to time together. Who knows what may be happening at your house 40 years from now?

You don’t have to break the bank to celebrate Christmas! Here’s a quick list of ways to make memories. It’s so easy, you can’t afford NOT to take a look.

  • Make decorations for your house and the Christmas tree as a family. Gather nature items outside (now before it snows!) and make them into a garland for the tree. Make Christmas ornaments together.
  • Get in the kitchen and make Christmas cookies or candy as a family, then take a few plates to neighbors and sing Christmas carols while you’re at it.
  • Attend a free/cheap concert or play in your community each year.
  • Go sledding, build a snowman, or have a snowball fight.
  • Read Christmas stories from the library or have Mom and Dad talk about memories of Christmas from the good ol’ days.
  • Have a fun sleepover a few nights before Christmas in front of your lit tree. Watch a Christmas show, read Christmas stories, or listen to Christmas music.
  • Have a gingerbread house or cookie decorating contest. Then donate the houses or cookies to your local Festival of Trees event, if you have one.
  • Turn off all the lights on Christmas Eve and use candles as you tell the story of the Savior’s birth. If you have young children, act out the Christmas story from The Bible.
  • Talk about the most significant event that happened to your family this year and how that has helped you grow closer.
  • Write special memories from the past year and keep it in a Christmas box that you open each Christmas to see how you have changed over the years.
  • Write a family Holiday letter and then send it to loved ones.
  • Require that all gifts be homemade and be sure to draw names so each person is only focused on making one gift.
  • Run in a Christmas 5K event together.
  • Do the 12 days of Christmas for a family in need.
  • Put together a few boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
  • Serve the homeless at your local shelter.
  • Drive around and look at Christmas lights, and, if you feel like it, find someone you can bring home for the evening to share the spirit of Christmas.
  • If you live near a Festival of Trees event, attend and/or donate a tree (you probably will have to start this several months before the event). Attend another charity event if you do not have a Festival of Trees in your area.
  • Instead of Elf on the Shelf, buy some Kindness Elves* and discover all the wonderful things you can do for each other this Christmas season!
  • Purchase a few toys and donate them to Toys for Tots.
  • Volunteer at a local senior citizens center. Make cards, sing songs, or just visit with the elderly for an evening.
  • Let the kids pick out 3 toys that they would like to give to another child in need.
  • Make a dinner for a family who needs it and take it to them on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
  • After all gifts have been opened, ask everyone to gather at least 3 things they no longer want that they can put in a bag and give to charity.

Adapted from: http://humbleinaheartbeat.com/meaningful-and-frugal-family-christmas-traditions/