Skip to main content

The value of remembering and creating holiday traditions

Written By: Vicki Powers, UT Physicians | Updated: December 21, 2023
Family spending time at Christmas together

Holiday traditions offer a variety of positive aspects for families. Simplicity, without expectations, is a great way to get started.

My childhood includes cherished holiday traditions we did as a family and with neighbors. One of my favorites was when my grandparents took my younger sister and me to the mall to take a photo with Santa Claus and buy something pretty (i.e., usually a dress) with the money my grandfather saved all year in his coin jar. The annual ritual provided a sweet opportunity to spend time with our grandparents on our own.

Taiwo T. Babatope, MD
Taiwo T. Babatope, MD

Why do we remember these types of holiday traditions with such fondness? Holiday celebrations hold a unique power to shape memories that resonate deeply with individuals, both children and adults, according to Taiwo T. Babatope, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist with UT Physicians. She said the shared experience fosters intense exchanges that create memories that evoke positive emotions including hope, love, joy, humor, proximity, and gratitude. Nostalgia often draws people to reflect fondly on various aspects of bygone eras, and the holiday season holds a special place for this.

“The warmth of these interactions, combined with the sensory richness of the season, contributes to the lasting impact of holiday celebrations,” said Babatope, assistant professor in the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “They become poignant touchstones in the tapestry of one’s life, creating a reservoir of positive memories that individuals carry with them throughout their lives.”

Families that engage in these rituals tend to experience greater satisfaction in their relationships.

Taiwo Babatope, MD

Babatope explains that holiday traditions, such as Christmas and Hannukah celebrations, are deeply significant social rituals that go beyond mere routines. They are filled with symbolic meaning that engage not only family members but also friends and loved ones within communities.

“These time-honored customs play a crucial role in fostering a sense of rootedness, creating a shared cultural identity and facilitating the celebration of cherished beliefs and values,” Babatope said.

The positivity of traditions

Holiday traditions offer a variety of positive aspects for individuals and families. Babatope said engaging in festive celebrations is closely linked to heightened social identification, which reinforces values and aligns individuals with positive social beliefs. Research has shown the positive impact of meaningful and regular family rituals on various aspects of subjective well-being, according to Babatope.

“Families that engage in these rituals tend to experience greater satisfaction in their relationships, positive outcomes in child socialization, and an enhanced sense of individual identity,” Babatope said. “Their role contributes to the overall well-being and resilience of families and communities alike.”

It’s important to recognize that not everyone experiences the joy of remembered traditions or Christmas cheer. Babatope said for some individuals, holidays can bring feelings of anxiety, envy, depression, and even dread, contrasting with the expected merriment and joy. The origins are varied, ranging from recent losses, seasonal affective disorder, preexisting mental health issues, demanding social commitments, as well as emotional and financial strains.

“Maintaining contact post-holiday season is crucial to support those at risk of deteriorating mental health,” Babatope said. “Proactive measures during these vulnerable periods play a vital role in supporting and preserving mental health.”

Make your own memories

It’s never too late to start creating memories with holiday traditions. And it doesn’t require grand gestures, especially if you’re just starting out. Babatope said the key is beginning with simplicity, tied together with an element of fun, and involving others in the process.

“Small, enjoyable traditions, like toasting the holidays with a family-friendly beverage such as hot cocoa, can bring delight to individuals of all ages,” Babatope said. “For those seeking to elevate their traditions, infusing an element of competition and fun can turn a novel activity into a cherished staple for generations to come.”

A beloved tradition in Babatope’s household involves the “Gingerbread Dream Home competitions,” where teams use store-bought or homemade gingerbread pastry to craft “HGTV-inspired” dream homes. She said this friendly rivalry and creative energy make it an engaging and memorable activity.

Traditions also can involve helping others. Families can take their children to buy a toy for children in need through programs like Toys for Tots. Kids with a creative flair can decorate cards and help deliver them to the elderly at a senior living center, who often don’t have local family in town.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Take some hot chocolate, grab the kids, and drive through neighborhoods looking at holiday lights.
  • Watch a favorite movie from your childhood and introduce it to your children.
  • Read holiday-themed stories together before bedtime.
  • Cut out paper snowflakes using white coffee filters to create a winter scene on windows.
  • Buy or make a new ornament.

Traditions are meant to be fun, not stressful. Keeping things simple, without expectations, will help everyone enjoy the time together and want to continue them each year.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.