Roast pig. Caroling. Late night movie on Christmas Eve. New ornament each year. Tree cut fresh from the forest. One present opened on Christmas Eve. Candle lighting. Midnight dinner. These are activities a hospital staff mentioned when I asked for holiday traditions. Like your holiday traditions, they're all great. Can you stand to add another, emphasizing your own family history?
If so, consider these. They'll take a little effort the first year, but only a little time each year thereafter. The benefits will be bountiful.
My favorite of all these family history traditions is one suggested by John Edward, host of "Crossing Over with John Edward" ("Unforgettable Holiday Memories," Reader's Digest. Dec 2003, p 63.) He recommends watching home movies during the December holidays to keep family memories and members in remembrance. Magnificent idea.
Turn the old home movies and/or photographs into a video or DVD with a running commentary identifying every person shown. Cut and pare until the whole movie is about an hour in length or it will never reach tradition status. Because home movies not only show pictures but movements, the milieu, and activities the person liked, they are powerful family connectors.
Thanks to an uncle, I have an old black and white video that includes grandparents, aunts and uncles, all holding huge salmon they've just caught. I am moved with love every time I see them giggling and showing off. Home movies add a vitality and urgency to our history that even pictures can't touch.
Commercial games such as "Family Reunion," "Family Tree Trivia," "Out on a Limb," etc., played every year, make a great family tradition. But if you truly want to acquaint family members with ancestors, create games featuring your own ancestors. A board game designed to get ancestors from the first known residence to the last by throws of the dice could be amusing. Or how about doing old maid with pictures of ancestors on 3" by 5" cards? Try playing Charade using ancestral names, places or historical events.
For the theatrically minded, how about a Readers' Theater? One year, I wrote a production about a great uncle who was kidnapped, including plenty of parts, so everyone could participate. We decked ourselves up in costumes, read our lines and "a great time was had by all," as my Grandmother would say. You could do the same story every year, or add new ones from time to time.
A puppet show representing family events would be a great holiday tradition. It could involve everyone: people to build the puppet theater and the puppets; people to dress the puppets; someone to write the show; and a few lucky people to activate the puppets.
Tell stories. Family stories, repeated regularly, determine the values in the family. One of my Dad's favorite stories is about honesty. We've heard the story dozens of times until, by now, we consider ourselves honest people and act accordingly. It was the stories Alex Haley heard his aunts and uncles tell on the front porch that directed him to discover his ancestry. Family stories reveal who we are to one degree or another.
Some families have traditions of giving service during the holidays. Very commendable. Following are a few good service ideas that may be new to you.
Plant a tree. Every year plant a tree and name it after a relative. Then call the trees by their names when caring for them or harvesting: "I'm going to spray great Uncle Ebenezer Smith for bugs."
Leave a library legacy. When appropriate, donate family materials to the local library or historical society. Name the collection after an ancestor and add to it yearly if possible.
Organize photos. Get the photos out of Granny's boxes, organize them chronologically, label and preserve them in albums. Or copy them onto CDs. Then, like Dagwood, look at them with your kids from time to time.
Donate DNA samples. It is not a painful process, just a swab of the cheek or a rinse of the mouth. Several DNA archives exist. Sorenson's Molecular Genealogy Foundation of Salt Lake City, Utah can be reached at www.smgf.org/index.jsp or call 801-509-9157. Sound DNA databases with an extremely wide sample base will help clarify families for the future.
Rescue and repair family artifacts and photos. Recently, I rescued old framed photographs from being jumped on by grandchildren. The pictures were covered with pillows, and no one knows how they got under the pile. I had the pictures repaired and covered with archival glass. They now hang in my office. It is also important to repair old Bibles, journals and other historical books.
Just for fun, create a family coat-of-arms. You know by now that the coats-of-arms you see in the mall or in the reference books with your surname attached, almost never represent your family. Coats-of-arms were awarded to individuals, not families. And they weren't necessarily handed down. They are not recognized as legal in the United States at all. But that is no reason for you not to make one of your own and review it every holiday. For more facts about heraldry go to http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/heraldry.faq
Brighten your holidays by giving gifts that last much longer than one moment one bright morning -- give gifts of family tradition and service.
You can tell LaRae Free Kerr, M. ED. about your favorite family traditions at firstname.lastname@example.org.