Make your own family traditions

Brenda Cannon HenleyBy Brenda Cannon Henley
Family traditions are attitudes and ideals inherited from one’s parents in the normal sense of the word. They can help to strengthen family bonds, enrich the life shared together, contribute to children’s wellbeing, and create lasting memories. I have read many articles on the subject, and frankly, I come away feeling a little left out and a lot different. Many couples led their family members into way too many traditions, which often become cumbersome and difficult to keep as the years mount and the family dynamic changes. Choose a few good traditions and allow them to be incorporated into your lifestyle without going overboard.

One thing I have written about before is how unreasonable some older family members can be about rituals they consider tradition in their home. For instance, I know one family well where the mom has carefully outlined an activity for every single holiday and birthday in the entire family. She cooks massive amounts of food for these gatherings and brags about being so tired and broke, but yet, she insists on doing it. She has games planned and assignments made as to who will be on each team, and she doesn’t accept change or refusal to attend well. Her social invitations are really a means of tight control and she will not release her heavy hand on the family.

When Christmas Eve and Christmas Day roll around, she demands attendance for both at her house. When daughters and sons marry, and grandchildren come along, the spouses of her children are belittled if they don’t fall in line and plan to be there with smiles on and gifts in hand. Her insistence on perfect attendance is worse for birthdays. It leaves the other side of the family in a rather hopeless position to plan anything at all for their families. It is silly and unreasonable and I am fearful I told her just that. Give folks breathing room.

Today while cooking, I happened to hear Hank Williams Jr. singing one of his signature songs — Family Traditions, which he recorded with great success for release in 1979. The lyrics explain that he once had a very close family, but that he had been disowned for changing his direction and breaking family tradition.

I started thinking seriously about the subject and realized that I really never knew positive family traditions until I established my own or visited with a grandparent or another relative. Both my mother and stepfather are deceased and I do not usually speak ill of the dead, but our home from the time I was six until I was 18 had no true happy family traditions. My mother never cooked for a holiday, or any other time, and most special occasions are centered on good food and having people in or going to visit friends or family. Mother and her husband were confirmed alcoholics and none of us looked forward to any holiday, and especially not the long, four-day breaks. It meant more drinking, more parties with unsavory people, and more heartbreak. My two brothers and myself learned to stay in our rooms. If it were warm weather, we three would be at the lake from sunup to sundown. I cooked for them. I must add that mother and daddy turned their lives around for the most part when I was 18, but I was gone from home soon after. Mother never learned to cook.

So, when I married, I vowed my family would have traditions, and that we would enjoy them. I may have gone overboard on some, but my kids knew that we were a family and that we celebrated. The first thing I did moving into any new home was mount and decorate a private bulletin board for each child and helped that child choose colors and decorations for his or her room. I did a huge bulletin board in the hallway or kitchen area that we all shared and I decorated it for each season or event. And, I cooked, all of the time. We had big birthday celebrations with wrapped gifts, a theme each year, and food chosen by the person we were celebrating. I always kept a dining room table decorated in the theme of the month and Christmas lasted all month long.

I chose food that I thought went with the season, and it is funny, but I still cook it today. The traditional turkey was for Thanksgiving, and turkey and ham for Christmas, a big ham for Easter, and fried chicken or barbecue for the summer holidays. I have made hundreds of pounds of potato salad and cakes and pies of many descriptions. I love the traditions that became ours and I urge each of our readers to decide on and implement traditions for their family members or with friends. I would enjoy hearing about any family traditions that you have established over the years.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788, or


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One Response to “Make your own family traditions”

  1. Ginger Doster says:

    I Rembrandt it well Brenda. Those early years of us cleaning your house before we could go to the lake. Folding the clothes and you Dad cooking.

    I loved you dearly my friend as I do now!

    What an incredible woman you have become and successful.
    You have a wonderful family who love you very much!

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