The Book of New Family Traditions

BOOK: The Book of New Family Traditions

Table of Contents


Title Page

A man becomes the song he sings.





CHAPTER 1 - Ritual Recipes: Getting Started

Daily and Weekly Rituals of Connection
Ingredients:The Three Parts of a Ritual
The Two P’s:Find Your Purpose, and Make It Personal
Ritual Actions


CHAPTER 2 - Everyday Rituals

Daily Rituals
Dinner Family Traditions
Unconvention Meals
Making It Special
Hello and Good-Bye Rituals
Mom and Dad Away-from-Home Rituals
Problem-Solving Rituals
Rituals to Keep the Peace
School Rituals - Preparing First-Timers
Celebrating Back -to- School Days
Rewarding Good Work
Homework Ritual
Playing Hooky
End of-School-Year Rituals
Pet Rituals
Chore Rituals
TV Rituals
Technolgy and Traditions
What’s a Parent to Do?
Picking and Choosing Which Screens and When
Some Tech Tools for Creating New Family Traditions
Bedtime Reading Rituals
Beditme Prayers
Sport Rituals
Weekly Rituals
Weekly Family Nights
Weekly Family Meetings
Monthly Rituals


CHAPTER 3 - Family Festivities and Ceremonies

Great Birthday Celebrations
Milestone Birthdays
Half Birthdays
Star Birthdays
Adoption Rituals
Summer Vacation Rituals
Getting There: Rituals for Cars and Planes
Being There: Rituals for Peak Vacations
Garden Rituals
Family Reunions
Offbeat and Made-Up Holidays and Rituals
House Blessings
Milestones and Coming of Age
Rites of Passage
Coming-of-Age Rituals - First Period
Coming-of-Age Rituals for Boys and Girls
More Coming-of-Age
Rituals for New Drivers


CHAPTER 4 - Holidays

You Have My Permission to Change How You Celebrate
Celebrating Holidays - New Year’s Celebrations
Family Unity Day
Dinner Day
January 18: Celebrate the Birthday of A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh Author
Snow Day Rituals
Valentinés Day
First Day of Spring
April: Celebrate National Poetry Month
Arbor Day
May Day
Mother’s Day
Father’s Day
July 4
A “Happy Birthday, America” Party
Fun Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas
Sharing the Bounty of Thanksgiving
Winter Solstice
Pre-Christmas: Celebrate the Whole Month
More Family Christmas Celebrations
Christmas Reading Rituals
Christmas Gift Rituals
Christmas Charity Traditions


APPENDIX 1 - Fifty Questions for the Dinner-Table Conservation Basket

APPENDIX 2 - Gail Simpson’s Open Adoption Ritual


How to Contact the Author & Get More on Rituals

Copyright Page

A man becomes the song he sings.

—Irish proverb

Parents Praise
The Book of New Family Traditions

“I bought this book and read it cover-to-cover with a highlighter and a package of Post-it flags so I could refer to it again and again when “that” holiday/event/ritual/chance arose. I have given it as a gift as well several times and recommended it, and it is always cherished. A beautiful, innovative book that helps you establish your own family traditions.”

—Susan Wagoner


“When I got together with my husband, his daughter was ten years old. Your book helped make the three of us into a family. Before the book, recommended by friends, there were no rituals for the three of us. But this book opened doors for us. You helped me create relevant, fun, meaningful, and fresh rituals.”

—Linda McKittrick


“Since your talk and reading the book, I’ve been able to incorporate many of your ideas like half birthdays, painting rocks on the first day of spring, and on and on. I’ve also noticed how rich our lives were already with ritual. Little ones, like my sons touching my husband’s freshly shaved face in the morning to take some ‘good smell’ for their own faces when he leaves for work. Thanks for the fresh ideas!”

—Alexandra Barcohen


“My entire playgroup of moms went to the bookstore together and purchased a copy of your book some years ago. It is my number one recommended book for parents to this day. My copy is getting worn because I continue to refer to it. This book has had a life-changing impact on our family.”

—Jane L. Pierce


“Some parenting books are great but abstract. This one is so practical, and not intimidating. This has given me actual ideas of things to do with my family that will create meaningful memories.”

—Wendy Patterson


“I don’t know of a more unique book for families and significant family rituals out there than this one. One example of inspiration is that every Christmas, my family sat down and wrote out answers to a question about what each of us means to one another. Our sons are in their twenties, but I discovered they kept the questions and answers from those times. This has been a very special ritual for us, and it would not have happened without me reading your fantastic suggestions.”

—Mary Jane Mitchell


Author’s Note on the New Edition of
The Book of New Family Traditions

For those who are not familiar with the original edition of this book, let me be clear about what it is, and what it is not. This is not the book of an expert. It is the book of a passionate journalist, a well-trained and credentialed reporter who interviewed dozens of experts and hundreds of families.

I’ve been researching family traditions ever since writing the proposal for my first book,
The Heart of a Family
, while I was pregnant with my son in 1994. I’ve worked hard all these years to check facts and provide reliable information, but my main job is to search for all sorts of families with powerful, memorable rituals and organize their amazing stories into useful tools for families.

Since its publication in 2003, thousands of parents have used
The Book of New Family Traditions
to help them create fresh, fun, and memorable family rituals and gatherings. I’ve heard from countless mothers and fathers who tell me it’s a well-thumbed resource they keep going back to as the seasons and years progress, using it to spice up existing rituals and add new ones as needed.

As the years have gone by, I have continued to write a newsletter on family traditions and magazine articles on the topic, and I still lecture and teach about ritual creation. I keep collecting additional great ideas for celebrations from the families I meet, the readers who contact me, and the traditions I create for my own family.

The Book of New Family Traditions
was first published in 2003, my son, Max, was nine. Now he is seventeen, so I’ve learned a lot from personal experience about how family traditions evolve and grow—and sometimes fall away. I also became a grandmother when my stepdaughter, Kate, gave birth to her daughter, Lucy, in 2008, opening a new window onto family celebrations.

I wanted to share all these resources and gather fresh research and family stories to make this book an even more valuable tool. Fans of the original will find that virtually all the previous content is still here, but nearly every category and section has been expanded with new examples and suggestions of ways to make holidays memorable and find little, practical rituals to smooth out the rough patches in a child’s day.

What’s different this time?

This book has always stood out from the pack by covering such wide ground, running the gamut from major holidays to everyday rituals like bedtime and dinnertime, and for including the quirky practices of creative families that live outside the box. But the 2003 edition was organized with holidays and major celebrations first, pushing everyday rituals into the second half. I have long believed that although most parents focus on the big events when they start creating traditions for their kids, what really matters most to the quality of a kid’s life is the everyday stuff. To a toddler, next Christmas is farther away than the next millennium, but if he has a bedtime ritual that makes him feel safe and loved, his life today is golden.

So I decided to reverse the book’s priorities in that direction, not only starting the book with everyday rituals, but also weighting the new material heavily toward daily, weekly, and monthly practices. Although there are awesome new ideas here for Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, family reunions, and other big moments, I’ve really focused my search on powerful and practical day-to-day rituals. You will find a lot more ideas than before on how to use ritual to solve all the routine tensions of daily family life, like sibling fights, supermarket “gimme” tantrums, and bedtime meltdowns. I’ve especially ramped up the section on dinners, because I’m such a believer in the value of eating together daily. Solid scientific research continues to back up the anecdotal evidence that regular family meals are one of the best predictors that kids will grow up centered, confident, and resilient.

I also asked myself as I prepared the new edition: What has affected family life the most in the nine years since the original? Clearly, the answer is technology, which has swept through both our daily and our ritual lives. In 2010, I was startled by an article in the
New York Times
about how some Jewish kids were preparing for their bar/bat mitzvahs by studying online. There are multiple websites with names like
, where kids utilize up-to-the-moment tools like Skype and YouTube and iPods to learn their passage of the Torah in Hebrew.

Which is a good thing. Technology opens up all sorts of wisdom, ancient and modern, and allows for new ways of learning and sharing and connecting. But there are definitely downsides, when it comes to keeping families close.

Everyone in this culture is relentlessly peppered with electronic messages, surrounded by enticing screens everywhere we go. The number of personal electronic devices has multiplied astronomically, and it’s way more fun to play a game or watch your favorite TV cartoon than learn how to share toys with your sister or have a real conversation at the dinner table when everyone is tired and hungry.

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