Like heirloom tomatoes that grow best in certain soils, some traditions are better suited for some family situations. Here are ideas for picking those that will keep producing a harvest of happy memories for future generations:
Get children's input. Ask children which traditions they enjoy and why. You may get a variety of answers, especially if their ages range widely. Dig beneath the externals to find what really makes an experience special. Maybe the appeal of pizza night isn't the pizza, but rather the sense of contributing to an important family job: providing a meal.
Balance "big deals" with "little moments." Your own favorite childhood memories probably include special events like holidays and birthdays, and small ones -- reading stories together, say. Both can contribute to a child's sense of security and self-worth, strengthening ties to society and family.
Offer something for everyone. A tradition that involves family members of different ages and abilities is more likely to be carried on as children grow into adults. On a vacation, a 12-year-old might be charged with taking photos, while an older teen could upload and e-mail them to friends and relatives.
Focus on underlying values. If your values or beliefs are what you want to pass on, you might adapt a tradition to the circumstances or for family harmony. Suppose a spouse feels left out when a new job makes it impossible to help serve a winter meal at the soup kitchen as the family has done for years. Starting an equally worthy tradition that avoids the conflict, like wrapping presents for nursing home residents, reinforces the values of charity and generosity.
Adapt to changing times. Passing on family traditions can be hard when family relationships and societal roles seem to change in the time it takes for today's fifth-grader to graduate junior high. Again, focus on the importance of the tradition. If women in your family have been stitching award-winning quilts for the state fair competition for three generations, does it matter that the fourth generation includes sons, stepsons or foster sons?
With these ideas for inspiration, check out the next page for resources to help put them in action.