At this time of year, many people are finalizing plans to celebrate holidays with family members. Travel arrangements are, naturally, a focus of our attention, but plans for creating or continuing family traditions during the upcoming gatherings are equally important.
Traditions, which encompass the passing of customs, stories and beliefs from generation to generation, make family gatherings especially memorable and strengthen feelings of kinship. For the young, traditions provide a sense of love and belonging that can result in the formation of fond memories lasting a lifetime. For the old, they provide a sense of continuity. For those in between, traditional moments may be particularly poignant and joyful, for they show young and old reaching out to each other in ways that promote not only enjoyment, but also emotional fulfillment.
What is the best way to plan intergenerational activities that are conducive to creating traditions?
The first step is to think carefully about activities that can include all family members. Toddlers or elderly grandparents with limited mobility are not suitable participants in exhaustive shopping excursions or difficult hikes, for example. The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives.
Below are some ideas to consider:
• Make music. People who make music together often feel a special bond, which makes this an ideal activity for intergenerational family gatherings. Music also happens to be an effective method of reaching those who suffer from dementia. There are many options for music making, regardless of skill level. Family members can teach each other their favorite songs, or gather around a piano or guitar to sing holiday music. Bring out the maracas, tambourines and triangles, or the karaoke machine. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that the goal is not musical perfection, but rather
• Cook together. Some families take pride in a special recipe or holiday treat handed down or enjoyed from generation to generation. Some want to take on a new cooking or baking challenge. In either case, food preparation is an excellent way for family members of any age to spend quality time together. From decorating a cake to molding cookie dough to mashing potatoes, there is a role for everyone. As with music making, perfection is
• Enjoy nature. If the weather allows and the family members are able, easy walks are an enjoyable activity. Perhaps there is an opportunity to see some animals. Birds, for instance, can often be seen through windows at this time of year, especially if there’s a bird feeder nearby. If there is a zoo in the area, that is another possibility. Kids naturally relate to animals (a fact not lost to Walt Disney and the makers of Angry Birds), and they can learn more about them from the adults. This is an ideal opportunity for the handing down of knowledge.
• Watch holiday movies. Each generation seems to have its own favorite holiday movie, but what makes them all classics is that they bear repeated viewings. Watching one or two classics as a family on an annual basis is a tradition that is easy to keep. Movie-watching, furthermore, is a practical choice in inclement weather. Make sure to have plenty of hot popcorn on hand!
• Play games. Card and board games are fun for everyone, and, these days, we also have a plethora of electronic games at our disposal. Because there is so much variety, from Chutes and Ladders to Monopoly to wii tennis, it is easy to choose a game that is appropriate for the age and ability of your family members. It just might become the start of an annual tournament.
The activities listed above are only a few of the many options available for holiday tradition-making. Some of these activities might work well for your family, while others might be less successful. The important thing to remember is to maintain an open mind and be flexible. Keep your expectations modest and realistic (after all, this is real life, not a holiday movie), but don’t rule out the chance that this year’s holiday experiment may become a beloved and repeated activity for all ages – through the ages.