Family Life: Griswald Family Traditions

by Ray Martin

Every year my brother and I exchange a phone call on Christmas to say, “Merry Christmas, $h!tt#r’s full!”  Christmas Vacation is one of our favorite movies and we grew up watching it together every year.  My kids and I quote the movie year round!  I love the opening scene where they go to get their tree out in the woods…decorating the house with too many lights, having the big sit down dinner, waiting on the holiday bonus, etc.  I think that a great point is raised by Clark’s extreme nature in that we tend to do some things each year just to do them or because it’s what we’ve always done, but in reality they may not be all that healthy for our family.  So in the great Griswald family tradition we’re gonna discuss…drum roll please…drum roll…rituals!

Attachment to Parents Links to God

Why do we do some of the same things every year?  Where do rituals and traditions come from?  Frequent routines and rituals actually help us as humans to develop our sense of self as well as bond to our parents.  Routine is a magical thing that causes our brain to develop and in children it is the foundation for attachment.  Attachment is the strength of a child’s impulse to turn toward their caregiver to get their needs met.  This determines how secure, anxious, or avoidant we are in our relationships.  So, when a child has formed healthy attachments they are open, affectionate, playful, and cheerful in doing what is asked of them.  This is why it’s so important as parents to have daily and weekly routines with our family.  Spiritually, our degree of attachment to our parents directly affects how open we will be to a relationship with God, our spiritual father, because God designed the family so that parents would be a reflection of him to their children.  Research shows that securely attached children are more capable of deep and satisfying relationships with God and the secret ingredient that makes that happen: routines and rituals.

Holidays and Traditions

Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Marian Feast days, these celebrations are the cyclical traditions that we turn on each year in what Fr. Tom refers to as a spiral that we are on in our faith journey, traveling around and upward toward eternal life.  The Church in her wisdom knows that these rituals help us in our spiritual attachment to God, so she gives us these gifts which form the fabric of our faith life and provide the opportunity for us to bring rituals into our homes.  Remember that our homes are a domestic church (Micro-Churches)!  We all have special things as families that we like to do each year.  Sometimes an event happens like a death in the family or a marital breakdown and we are forced to change up how we celebrate.  Other times however, it’s important to evaluate what’s most important for the family to do and make sure that you plan time to do them.  Around Thanksgiving this year I asked my kids what was important to them regarding how we celebrate the Christmas season.

Things that were important to our family this year:

  • Decorating the house, buying personal ornaments
  • Food: Peanut Brittle, Eggnog
  • Movies: It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, Home Alone, Polar Express
  • Music: Christmas music played throughout the house

Holiday Tradition Worksheet

Sometimes things that we do aren’t really that important to everyone in the family, or perhaps they aren’t very healthy for us like Clark Griswald’s obsession with exterior lighting!  This year I tried making apricot nectar which was a tradition in my family growing up, so over Thanksgiving weekend I made it and no one really liked it.  When I was a young parent, I wanted to have a real Christmas tree because we always had fake ones growing up.  We would spend a whole day going to the tree farm, cutting down the tree, getting it decorated, then we would have to dispose of it after Christmas.  One year the tree was near windows and it was warm and we ended up having a bunch of weird insects hatch and infest our living room!  That was the last year that I had a real tree.  Maybe some traditions are worth doing and others aren’t.

Here’s an activity I encourage you and your family to work on: make a list with three columns like shown below and start having conversations together about things you do for Christmas as well as brainstorm ideas for some new things to try.  Ask everyone’s opinion on whether it’s worth keeping or tossing so that you can do something else.  Most importantly, keep trying because rituals, traditions, and holidays are key ingredients in developing our ability to have healthy relationships both with family, friends, and God.

Ritual            Keep It?             When?

Resources: Discovering God Together by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcek
Building the Bonds of Attachment by Daniel A. Hughes

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