How to Keep Rituals a Bit Flexible, a Little Lively, and a Lot Unexpected

Amy Rees
December 11, 2013

The winter holiday season is full of rituals and traditions, all cherished, to be sure. And those carefully crafted holiday routines that we have are important for young children, who can be easily overwhelmed by the chaos and the unusual schedules that turn up each December. We have our classic books and shows and meals that we return to again and again.

Now, let's mix it up a bit.  

Okay, okay, just a little bit.  But we do want to be sure that the twin tracks of routine and ritual don't get too rutted out. The "shoulds," all the normative "musts" that come along with the holidays, or our perception of perfect ones, can be crushing. So, what's the middle ground? Can we build traditions that allow for some flexibility? Can we coax our sometimes rigid preschoolers into a system that's at once predictable and just the littlest bit surprising? Can ideas that we create for The Holidays work well for any ol' holiday at all, since we seem to have a family calendar teeming with them?

Here are some of our best ideas for inspired holiday celebrations that don't require flawless execution every time to be fantastically festive:

Our keeping-an-even-keel guru Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project counsels holiday breakfasts as a way to institute ritual in a way that stays light and easy to pull off.  She came to the idea around Valentine's Day, and she pulled off her first one for Halloween (complete with black peanut butter). And when will your first one be?

In the introduction to her wonderful collection of poems, Caroline Kennedy talks about the tradition of her childhood that had her brother and her memorizing a poem and copying it into a special scrapbook as a gift for their mother on Mother's Day, Christmas and birthdays.  Your wee one may be too young for memorization (though if you both repeat "Moses supposes his toes are roses...," you might just have it ready in time for Nana's birthday).  But he's not too young to color a page of a poem you've printed out.  Start the scrapbook now, and fill it when you're both inspired by a snippet of verse!

Take a pass. If it's too much to pull off holiday cards (though check out our ideas before you toss the whole idea!), let some weeks pass and find a cute picture for your Valentine's Day postcard to friends and family instead. No need to make excuses, just surprise people with a picture and a warm thought later. Christmas in June if you need it.  

There, relax.  Enjoy the holidays. Start a ritual—just make it an easy one!

From the Parents

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