Tag Archive for traditions

Back to School Traditions from Around the World

It happened again.  The summer flew by and school is upon us.  I know several parents that struggle with the transition back to school.  I know many more children who struggle with the transition back to school.  Children around the world experience this same struggle and, just like us, their families work to make the transition go more smoothly too. Maybe we can gain a few ideas to add to our own repertoire and make this transition better this year than ever before. With that in mind, here are a few traditions from around that world that might make the transition just a little bit easier. Give one or two a try and see what you think.

  • In Germany, children get a Schultuete on the first day of school. This large decorated paper cone is filled with school supplies and small presents.  Sending your child to school with a modified Schultuete may make the transition easier.
  • In Russia, children give their teachers colorful bouquets of flowers on the first day of school. The children receive balloons in return. Wouldn’t that be fun? It might even help build a better relationship with their teacher. How could you modify this to work with your children in your school district?
  • In Japan, children may pack a traditional first day of school lunch for good luck. The lunch includes rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs. (Learn more here.) I don’t know if my kids would like that particular lunch, but a special lunch could go a long way in making the school transition a little easier.
  • Parents in Kazakhstan give their children a present filled with sweets, a pencil, and a candle on the first day of school. (Read more here.) Is there a small gift you might give your children to make school transition easier?
  • In India, the first day of school coincides with the monsoon season. As a result, children get a new umbrella to start the school year. Perhaps a new pair of jeans, a new shirt, or a new pair of shoes would work just as well in the US.

When all is said and done, your child will follow your lead as they return to school. Enjoy the transition back to school with your child. Build traditions around the transition. Celebrate the next step in “growing up.”  You can use the ideas from other countries to make it even more fun and educational…even if you have to modify them a little bit.

A Christmas Pickle? You Bet!

In our family we started celebrating the “Christmas Pickle” several years ago. I tried to find the reason for the Christmas Pickle when we began this celebration. Rumor has it that the pickle is an old German emblem of good luck. So, the tradition began. Hide the Christmas Pickle in the tree and the first to find it on Christmas morning gets the luck. They can open the first present, receive an extra gift, or enjoy good luck for the coming year. Which reward the observant family member received depends on the tradition your family chooses to follow.  I don’t know about this theory of origin. I find more references to pigs being symbols of luck than I do pickles. And I’ve never heard of anyone hiding a Christmas Pig in their tree. (Although…maybe we could sell some Christmas Pig ornaments and….No, it wouldn’t work.)

Another tradition expounds the tale of two Spanish boys trapped in a pickle barrel by a cruel innkeeper over Christmas break.  St. Nick set them free by tapping the barrel with his staff. So why not use the Christmas Staff for good luck, not the pickle? I was still not satisfied.

I found one last theory for the Christmas Pickle.  A man fell ill while in prison during the Civil War. As a dying wish he asked for a pickle. (Go figure. I wonder if he wanted dill or sweet.) Anyway, a kind-hearted guard found him a pickle. The man not only enjoyed the pickle, but, in time, recovered from his illness and returned home. In honor of the moment when, in the throngs of death, he savored a pickle, the man began hiding pickles (real pickles, by the way, as ornaments were not in style for another 15 years) in his Christmas tree…a tradition to recall his good fortune. I think I would have just stuck with savoring a pickle now and again.

I never discovered a reliable origin story for the Christmas Pickle. I just make my own up…different every year. So why do we still celebrate the Christmas Pickle. Because it’s fun. It’s a way to slow the Christmas season down a little and savor the tree while we look for a pickle. It’s a way to laugh as a family because we look for a hidden pickle in the tree. It’s another way we draw closer as a family as we laugh, celebrate, and enjoy one another’s company. I love it when I can watch my children laugh and celebrate. I imagine God enjoys it when He can watch His children laugh and celebrate as well, especially in celebration of the birthday of His Son too! So go ahead. Hide the Christmas Pickle and laugh, enjoy the pickle search, and draw closer to your family.

(If you’re interested, all three of the Christmas Pickle origin theories are briefly described in What’s the Real Story Behind the Christmas Pickle Ornament?)

Barney, Big Bird, & Mr. Rogers Knew It…Do You?

mrrogers_imageBarney, Big Bird, and Mr. Rogers had at least one practice in common, a practice that every parent of young children can use to great benefit. Let me give you 3 simple hints (click on each for a further hint): “We always clean up, clean up, to show we really care….” “And That’s Cooperation….” “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” Did you figure it out? They all sang songs and used music to teach lessons to the children watching their shows. You can do the same thing at home. Singing songs with your children can be a great parenting tool. Let me list some of the ways music and singing can help with parenting just like it helped Mr. Rogers and Big Bird.

  • Singing teaches lessons. We learn everything from the “A-B-C’s” to values like “Amazing Grace” through music.
  • Singing can aid children in transitioning from one activity to another. A consistent song can make the transition go more smoothly.
  • Singing can make a task more enjoyable and increase children’s compliance. Who hasn’t used the song “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…” to help motivate children to clean?
  • Singing can make children feel significant and important. Consider how many people feel a small surge of pride and well-being when they recall Mr. Rogers singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
  • Singing can help build relationships. Singing puts us “in sync” with one another.
  • Singing can help create and maintain family traditions like decorating Christmas trees, worship, or having fun.

Next time you find yourself struggling to get your children to do something or transition to some new activity, try breaking out in song. It may just help…and you will all have fun together!

A Star Wars Christmas

christmasStarWarsOn a small planet in a distant galaxy, a rebel prince named Satan fueled period of civil unrest. In arrogance, Satan had exploited the vulnerabilities of the King’s forces to form a coup and wrest the kingdom from its Creator. His rebel forces continued to entice, seduce, and enslave the King’s men. As part of his sinister plot, the evil prince even turned the loyalty of the King’s men toward himself. Those who refused to succumb to Satan’s tactics were killed, murdered without remorse. With each man the prince enslaved, he gained power…power to destroy an entire planet.

And then…A long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away, the King revealed His final and most loving battle plan. With a most extraordinary and unconventional strategy, the King initiated His final battle. He infiltrated enemy territory by sending His own Son, not as a warrior, but as an unassuming Baby Boy born in a manger in the midst of enemy occupied land. As this epic battle between good and evil forces progressed, the precious Baby Boy’s safety was entrusted into the hands of mere humans, a teen mother and an innocent father, both members of an oppressed people living under military rule on the planet ruled by the evil prince. Warned in a dream, the young family fled to Egypt to escape the evil prince. Upon return to their homeland & in near silence, the Baby boy grew into a man—an obedient Son and a Servant of the True King. When He suddenly burst onto the scene as an adult, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Him. The Baby boy, now a Servant Man, defeated the evil prince in a 40-day dessert battle and began to proclaim the dawning of the Kingdom of God. He revealed the Kingdom of God by making the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. He began to purge the Kingdom of God by casting out demons, the evil prince’s elite forces on earth. He turned the hearts of men and women back toward the King with words that filled them with amazement.

In a final epic battle, the Son of God engaged in hand to hand combat with death, Satan’s greatest warrior. He felt the power of death’s greatest blow. He willingly succumbed to the pain. He assumed the burden and punishment of our sin, and He experienced the loss of His own life. To all who saw this final battle, it appeared as though death had won. Life was dead!

But, it was all part of the True King’s ingenious plan. In a complete twist of plot, it was through the voluntary, sacrificial death of the Perfect, Unblemished Lamb of God that the battle was won. For when the Son of God became our sin, we gained His righteousness. It was by His wounds we were healed; through His death we gained life. Just as the King had orchestrated from the beginning of time, it was through this seeming defeat, this sacrificial death, that the King won the victory and Satan was defeated. Life was set free and God’s Spirit was poured out to empower all those in the Kingdom of God.

This story continues today. The Kingdom of God continues to grow. Each time we gather at the communion table, we remember the King’s greatest victory. Each time we drink the cup and eat the bread of His covenant, we recall the victory He has won. We rejoice in the knowledge that the King, Jesus Christ, is coming back soon for His final victory parade.

And that final victory begins with a tiny Baby in a manger. Merry Christmas.

Christmas–You Don’t Want to Miss This!

The Christmas Season is a wonderful family celebration. We fill our time with traditions and rituals that draw our families together and remind us of the true meaning of the season. Those traditions and rituals create an emotional bond we can cherish throughout our lives with our spouses and children. This holiday season seems to have been rushed and modified for my family. Still, we look for opportunities to fit each of our traditions into the season and, with each one, grow more connected as a family. Let me share some Christmas Traditions we enjoy as a family and a couple of traditions from other families to fill your season with joy and remembrance. My family enjoys:

  • Dad helping boy to decorate christmas treeReading “A Gathering of Angels” by Calvin Miller.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree. Buying a family ornament for our tree each year. Hiding the Christmas pickle…sort of.
  • Sharing gifts with one another, one on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. Christmas morning we play music, sip a hot drink, and pass around the gifts.
  • Listening to the Christmas concerts given by the high school band and chorus.
  • Singing Christmas carols.
  • Contemplating and talking about the birth of Christ. I especially like the story of the shepherds!
  • Enjoying a special family Christmas dinner and enjoying a Christmas dinner with our church family.
  • Attending a Christmas Eve service.
  • Setting up a manger scene.
  • My children bake cookies and I help by eating them. (I love eating them fresh from the oven!)

Some traditions our friends celebrate and enjoy…you might, too:

  • Leave the wise men out of the manger scene and place them somewhere on the other side of the house. Each day, move them closer to the manger scene. They finally arrive at the manger scene the day after Christmas.
  • Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and enjoy it on Christmas day.
  • One of our friends shares with his whole community in a traditional Slovak Christmas Dinner each year, complete with ethnic entertainment.
  • The Elf on the Shelf…who magically moves around the house on his/her own.
  • Watching the Christmas TV specials. Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer are my favorites.

I know the season is well under way, but what are some of your family’s favorite traditions? We would love to hear how you celebrate family at Christmas time. And, who knows, your tradition may help another family celebrate their Christmas this year!

Trying Out for Family Happiness

We all want to live in a happy family. Happy families enjoy one another’s company more than unhappy families do. They resolve arguments and outside stresses more quickly and easily as well. Happy families produce happy people. Happiness is good for us, too. People Trying Out 400who learn the skills of happiness tend to become more successful. They get better performance reviews. They have more satisfying marriages. Happy people live longer and healthier lives. I don’t know about you, but I want these benefits. I want my spouse and kids to have these benefits as well! And, the best place to learn happiness is in the home
with our family. It begins with acceptance and can include simple skills like exercise and setting goals. “Trying out” also raises the level of family happiness.  I don’t mean “trying out” in the sense of “trying out” for a position on a sport’s team or “trying out” for a part in the musical. “Trying out” in this sense means to keep on learning new things. “Try out” something new, just for the fun of it. Trying new things engages our curiosity…and curiosity is one of the top 5 “basic human strengths” associated with an overall life of fulfillment and happiness! Trying new things also allows us to accomplish new things. Accomplishments lead to greater self-confidence. Accomplishment and confidence contribute to overall happiness. So, let’s start “trying out” new things to boost our family happiness. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started.

  • Turn something old into something new. All families have their routine activities. Sometimes these activities can become too routine and humdrum (like the family meal); or, even worse, they become so routine we disliked them (like washing the dishes). Next time your family engages in one of these routine activities, look for and talk about three novel or unexpected aspects of the activity. Focus on the sounds, the facial expressions of your family members, the smells, or the physical sensations of the experience. For instance, how do the bubbles of the dish soap feel? Can you make the bubbles float into the air? Sing a song about the activity. Can you make music with the dishes as you clean them? Try telling stories to make your family laugh during dinner? You get the idea. Look for the humorous, the novel, and the overlooked aspects of the old routine activity. When you discover one, shout it out for all to hear.
  • Learn the family stats. Learn something new about your spouse, kids, and parents. What are their current interests? What are their current challenges? What are their greatest joys? What family stories have your children never heard but speak of fun or resilience in your family heritage? How have your spouse and children grown? What have they learned? What excites them? How have they changed since last year?
  • Dream. As you spend time together, begin to dream. Think about activities you would like to “try out.” Have you tried skiing or hiking? Paint ball or fishing? Why not take the family out and give it a shot? You could read a book that no one has read but you think you’d all enjoy. Take a trip to a place you have never visited. Try cooking a type of food you have never eaten—Asian, Middle Eastern, French, Brazilian, etc. Plan a vacation to someplace you have never been. Whether the Bahamas, Yellowstone Park, Ohiopyle, Europe, or Ohio, plan the trip as a family.
  • Live the dream. After you have planned out any one of your dream ideas, do it. Enjoy the ethnic feast, the dream vacation, and the simple activity. Have fun “trying out” something new.

What are some new things your family has “tried out” to boost your happiness?

Project Mealtime: A Sacred Expression of Love

Family having a big dinner at homeFamily meals offer a smorgasbord of benefits for families. For instance, children whose families enjoy regular family meals earn higher grade point averages.  Regular family meals contribute to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression in adolescents. Dinner conversations boost vocabulary more than reading. And, stories of personal victories, perseverance, and fun moments shared at dinner build children’s resilience and confidence. In spite of all these benefits, family meals are difficult to arrange. In our fast-paced culture we tend to gorge our families with individual activities and fast food instead of savoring the time invested in a family meal. Perhaps we can copy a recipe from the French when it comes to valuing both food and our families. In How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, Mei Ling Hopgood takes one chapter to describe how the French teach their children to love healthy food.  Let’s chew on three ingredients the French savor when it comes to family meals.

  1. Mealtime is a sacred time, a time set apart from the busy-ness of life. Like all sacred times, the family meal is approached with anticipation. Ingredients are chosen with care and thoughtfully prepared in love. The family takes time to savor the uniqueness of each ingredient as well as the dynamic blend of flavors and aromas they create. With this mindset, the meal becomes a sacred moment which the whole family can admire and share.
  2. Mealtime is an expression of love. Meals allow us to promote our families’ physical health by choosing quality foods and our families’ emotional health in the secure bonding we enjoy over food. As an expression of love, mealtime becomes more than simply filling our bodies with nutrients. It becomes an opportunity to give other family members their favorite foods, to humbly serve one another, and to express gratitude for what we have received. During mealtime, we can offer our children or spouse the first bite and make the small, loving sacrifice of offering the last bite as well.
  3. Mealtimes are family projects. Everyone can pitch in from the very beginning. The whole family can help obtain the foods, whether by carefully choosing and purchasing the food at the grocery store or by growing and picking the food from the garden. The whole family can also participate in cooking the food, preparing the table, and cleaning the dishes. Throughout the process, family members can enjoy conversation and laughter. Most importantly, the whole family can sit down to eat the “fruits of their labor” together, presenting a wonderful opportunity to remember, give thanks, and celebrate the sacred moment of a family meal, prepared and shared in love by the whole family.

 

Enjoy the benefits of the sacred mealtime by joining me in the family mealtime project. As we start the new year, commit to eating at least three meals each week as a family. No TV. No scattering each one to his own room. No cell phones. Just you and your family cooking up the perfect family recipe and enjoying the sacred expression of love we call mealtime. Join me in Project Mealtime: A Sacred Expression of Love.

Someone Stole Christmas!

Don’t look now but someone stole Christmas! This thief is sly, too: he carefully replaces everything he takes with some other distraction. I first recognized the evidence of his felony while at the mall. Christmas kindness had disappeared, hijacked from the hearts of Thief pushing a trolley of giftsshoppers and replaced with pushing, shoving, and darting in front of others. Christmas joy has also come up missing, stolen and replaced with profane grumbling over slow cashiers and impatient demands for immediate service. That got me thinking. This thief has ripped off our sense of community and replaced it with a focus on individual rights and privileges as well. He has even snuck into our homes, taken our casual, intimate family time, and shoved frenetic schedules filled with crowd fighting and shopping sprees in its place. I think he even threatens to rob us of our very family, carefully replacing it with toys and gadgets that allow us to be alone, engaged in our own world while we sit in the same room! Someone needs to stop this little thief, catch him and teach him a thing or two. But, he is a shadowy figure, slipping through our hands and minds with no substance to grasp. He is elusive. We have to use a different tactic to end his reign. So, I’ve devised a plan. I hope you will join me in implementing this six-part plan to stop the thief of Christmas.

  1. The first step in stopping the thief of Christmas is keeping him from stealing the Christmas spirit from your own life. Model the Christmas spirit in your home and community. Practice kindness. Be polite. Look for opportunities to give generously of your time and money to others. Celebrate Christmas.
  2. Spend time with your family. Make time with your family a priority in your life. put down the video game, turn off the phone, and spend time in conversation with your family. Play a game like “Apples to Apples” or “The Game of Things.” Laugh. Talk. Enjoy time together.
  3. Invite another family over for Christmas games or snacks. Share some Christmas cookies. Practice sharing friendship, fun, and togetherness with others.
  4. Watch some Christmas specials. Talk about the message each one communicates. While you’re at it, watch the commercials and talk about the messages they communicate as well. It will likely provide an interesting contrast to discuss, the contrast of between the thief of Christmas displayed in the commercials and the true Christmas spirit communicated in the Christmas special. Just for fun, check out Jerry Seinfeld’s acceptance speech for the Clio–very insightful…and humorous.
  5. Create Christmas traditions. Traditions bring families together and keep families together. So, make it a Christmas tradition to decorate the tree together, give a gift to someone in need, attend a Christmas Eve service, visit a shut-in, back cookies…you get the idea. “Get your traditions on.”
  6. Remember what Christmas is all about…a gracious, generous, and holy God who gave a Child, His Son to ransom our freedom and adopt us into His family.

 

The foundation of this six-part plan rests on relationships. Intimate relationships with our family and community will protect us from the Christmas thief and guard us from his evil scheme to replace our heart’s true desire with counterfeit decoys. By the say, did I start this blog by saying “Don’t look now but someone stole Christmas”? Let me take that back. Open your eyes. Look now. Keep your eyes open to catch the Christmas thief and end his tyranny of robbery. Join me in practicing the six-part plan above to stop the thief of Christmas and find the true joy of Christmas.

The Family Fun Night I Secretly Love

Dad helping boy to decorate christmas treeI’m going to let you in on a secret. I love this family fun night…but don’t tell my family. Every year I pretend to dislike it. I pretend to begrudge the whole process even while I participate. In reality though, I have a wonderful time and love…here it is…decorating the Christmas tree. (Shhhh, don’t tell my family.) You know why I like it? We put on jazzy Christmas music, drink some hot cocoa, and work together to complete a project. We talk, joke, and laugh the whole time. Each ornament carries a story or a memory. Some ornaments speak to our individual interests. Other ornaments represent our vacations or fun activities we have enjoyed. Still others remind us of our first year of marriage, the year our daughters were born, or the special “rite of passage trip” my wife took our daughters on when they turned sixteen. We even hide a “Christmas pickle” in the tree just for fun. Each year, we have to make the “big decision” of whether an angel or a star will sit atop the tree. This opens the opportunity to talk about the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. And, we place a giant nail on the tree to remind us that the Christ child, whose birth we celebrate, is also the Savior who died for our sins. As my daughters leave home, I think my wife and I will still decorate our tree…but I will miss doing it as a whole family. I hope you enjoy this family fun night as well. In addition to the ideas mentioned above, you can…

  • String some popcorn to hang on the trees.
  • Pick a theme and decorate the tree accordingly.
  • Make paper snowflakes to put on the tree.
  • Put some cotton on the tree to look like snow balls.
  • Hang some candy canes on the tree. Take them off and eat them throughout the season.
  • Use your imagination to come up with more creative ideas for your family tree.

Go ahead and decorate your Christmas tree. Enjoy your time together. Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the reason for the season. Take time to celebrate the joy of remembering. But, please (puh-leeeez) don’t tell my family how much I love this activity, it will ruin my reputation!

Family Fun Night Under the Stars

Falling starWhether you want to spend a romantic night with your spouse or a relaxed evening with your whole family, stargazing fits the bill. I remember laying a blanket out in the back yard so my daughters, my wife, and I could lie back, look at the stars, and talk. We talked about the constellations (mostly them pointing constellations out to me) as well as life, beliefs, dreams, and whatever silly ideas came to mind. Stargazing is relaxing. It provides a lovely backdrop for building family intimacy as well as the perfect romantic setting after the kids go to bed.

 

Stargazing can also become a great family hobby—a hobby that promotes togetherness and the opportunity to stand in awe of the vastness of God and His creation…or talk about myths and romance…all while having a snack. Depending on where you live, a stargazing family could have enjoyed a lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse, Pegasus crossing the sky, and mercury peeking into the morning sky last month (October, 2014). And, this month (November, 2014) will offer a great time to see Mercury just before sunrise in the Eastern sky.

 

Two sites that will give more information about stargazing are StarDate and Stargazing Tonight. Check them out. Then go for a walk on a clear night and enjoy the stories of stars and constellations. Share dreams. Recall what the stars mean in your beliefs (such as Abraham being promised by God that his descendants would number like the stars of the sky). Stand in awe at the vastness of God and His creation. And, for the sake of family, enjoy one another’s company as you stargaze for a family fun night.

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