To Bake or Break with Tradition

The Situation

It was mid-December.  My mother and I were playing “catch up” on the phone. 

“How many kinds of Christmas cookies have you made so far?” she asked. 

My heartbeat quickened as I considered my response.

a child decorating holiday cookiesI remembered:

  • the colorful old tins we would fill together each year as I grew up.
  • the smell of spices.
  • the warmth of the kitchen.
  • flour everywhere.
  • music playing on the record player.
  • recipe cards covered with icing.
  • piles of cookie trays and cutters.

So many images flitted through my mind.  My love for baking passed down from my grandmother to my mother, to me, and yes, now to my daughter. 

But this year, this December, with a twinge in my voice, I answered my mother’s query with a sigh and a syllable – “none.”


Passing on Family Traditions

Life’s Treasures

Traditions are important.  Many of us can recall warm fuzzy memories from times spent together during the holiday seasons.  From baking cookies to gift giving to traveling to family gatherings, these times can serve as opportunities to renew, build, and celebrate the relationships and values we have treasured for as long as we can remember.


Life’s Pain

Yet, for some of us, these traditions or perhaps unwritten rules handed down from generation to generation, also known as transgenerational legacies, may be painful to recall.   Perhaps we were forced to comply against our will or the opposite, excluded altogether. 

Maybe the activity seldom if ever turned out as planned and angry feelings or stress resulted.  Whatever the outcome, the experience was uncomfortable in some way.


Family Loyalties

The power to keep patterns the same as the past is referred to as family loyalty.  This time of year, this process often kicks in, either consciously or unconsciously. 

I realized I felt sadness in sharing my lack of cookie production with my mother.  I fretted over her seeming disappointment with me.  I also felt guilty for denying my daughter the chance to experience the fullness of an activity I had so enjoyed in this season.

Conversely, family loyalty can also propel us to pass on values, beliefs and activities that unite and connect us.  Sharing meals, exchanging gifts, worshipping together may be experiences from our past we continue in this season.  But…..back to the cookie dilemma!


Making Family Traditions Work for Your Unique Family

I realized, after dealing with my guilt, that I could make conscious choices about my loyalties.  Not everything from my past, or for that matter, from my husband’s past, could be included in these few weeks of preparation and celebration. 

I needed to consider which values, beliefs and traditions were best, not just good or expected, but best, to include in my family’s holiday season.  Some choices may not fit my current family’s needs or temperament traits.  Those treasured moments from my childhood may need to remain in my memory file while new family files are opened and filled with new treasures.


One Family’s Solution

Some years ago, I led a workshop on holiday stress.  A mother shared something new she had initiated in her family in hopes of decreasing the tension.  Each member of the family was asked what one tradition was most important for them to enjoy during the upcoming holiday season.  Many thoughts and suggestions were aired. 

Eventually each person in the family selected one event, activity or item that they most cherished.  Then the parents, after approving the selection, made sure that the choice was honored. 

  • One child chose a trip to a local pageant,
  • another wanted to do a craft activity,
  • a third picked decorating the house together,
  • while the parents opted for a special night out together without the children!


Be Flexible

Change is not easy.  Though I struggled to let go of my emotional need to have dozens of cookies, I chose, after discussion with my family, to bake small loaves of bread to give as gifts. Together, we also assembled small wreaths for the same purpose.  The latter was accomplished and cleaned up all in one afternoon. 

Those two projects allowed me to be creative without needing to set aside hours of time each week. And I felt that I had found a way to pass on some portion of my childhood traditions to my own family.



Whatever choices you and your family make this holiday season, keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Evaluate family loyalties in light of your current family’s values, individual temperaments and interests, and the realities of time constraints and schedules.
  • Make healthy choices based on reality rather than an unrealistic image of the “perfect season.”  We can’t do it all!!  (And, it ain’t worth trying!)
  • Give yourself credit for what you can do!
  • Regularly “check in” with each other to share feelings and needs.
  • Enjoy!  Enjoy!!  Enjoy!!!



To bake or break with tradition could make a difference for you and your family this holiday season.

Making conscious choices, honoring the uniqueness of your family, getting clear about what you value, and being flexible about how you honor your family loyalties and legacies can help to fill this holiday season with many special and memorable moments.

Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator




For more information about healthy parenting, check out the following books. Purchasing books from our website through supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.


Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Faber and MazlishBlessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy MogelThe Whole Brain Child by Dan SiegelParenting by Heart by Ron Taffel

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