New Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

Looking for some ways to celebrate the holidays that go beyond a tree or dreidel game? Perhaps a ritual or two that you can share with friends or family that speak to your values? We asked Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day, for some inspiration and ideas.

Why Rituals?

Each December most Americans engage in some sort of holiday ritual. Why in December? “It’s pretty primal, primitive stuff,” Cox explains. “When the world gets dark, you want light. So whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or Christmas, light is involved—it serves as a metaphor for warmth, truth, love, new beginnings.”

What your rituals mean to you is deeply personal and deserves some reflection. “Ritual is the action that speaks louder than words. It is the way that families act out their identity and teach their identity,” Cox explains. “Rituals should flow directly from your values. They should be what you want to see and instill in your kids. Do you want them to grow up to be generous or with a faith tradition? Do you want them to have a deep understanding of an ethnic or cultural background? What are the things that are most important to you? Your rituals need to reflect that.”

Cox offers the following ritual ideas to spur inspiration for you own. She also emphasizes to add rituals only when you feel you need them. “You don’t need to pile on rituals—just what you feel you need. That’s the beauty of traditions; you can customize them for you and your family.”

  • Make it a season and not just a day. All that excitement on one day can be an overload. Find ways to count down to your holiday. Maybe enjoy an Advent calendar or say prayers and light candles each day. Spread that energy and excitement around for a few weeks.
  • Each year gift children with craft kits in early December so they can make gifts to give.
  • Spread a love of reading with a book Advent. Wrap books and put a number on each. Hand out the books to family members each night. You can do this for however many days you want—five, ten, or the entire month of December!
  • Each night turn out all the lights, light a candle and sing songs. This will be more powerful than loud and big and crazy.
  • If you have a Christmas tree, do a tree sit. Each night turn out all the lights and turn on the lights on the tree and appreciate the moment. You can talk about past holidays or other shared memories. You can do the same ritual while the Kwanzaa or Hanukkah candles burn.
  • If you cut down your Christmas tree each year, make it a rite of passage that when each child is old enough he or she can help in the cutting.
  • Make and deliver treats to the neighbors. For families with kids, this can be a good one to evolve over the years via responsibility levels. For example, teens can do this one on their own!
  • Look for community events that can become a ritual. If the arts are important—go see The Nutcracker or a play each year.
  • Participate in a charity event with family or friends.
  • On Solstice night, sit in a dark room and reflect on how it must have been for people who didn’t have electricity and didn’t know it was going to get light again. If you have small children, it can be fun to then throw open the front door and yell, “Come back, sun!” Then whip up sun shakes—vanilla ice cream and orange juice—in a blender.
  • Celebrate renewal with this New Year’s ritual: Take twigs about six inches long. Tie a red ribbon on one end and a green ribbon on the other. Then reflect on a habit you want to change or something bad that happened during the year that you want to let go of. Then break the stick in half and toss the red end into a fire pit or fireplace and announce that you are getting rid of it. Keep the green stick to remind you of new beginnings.

Above all else, Cox reminds us to have fun. “The holidays are also about a break from routine. You eat indulgent foods, stay up late, sleep in. It’s life in capital letters; enjoy it.”

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