Let me steal your family traditions
February 17, 2018 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I'd really like to start some family traditions in my own family, and I'm thinking I need to be more proactive than just saying they will come naturally. I'd love to steal some of yours. What were your favorite traditions you did as a family when you were a kid?

Open to all ideas -- every day things, specific holiday/birthday ideas, random things -- anything you really enjoyed doing as a regular thing with your parents/family.

posted by caoimhe to Human Relations (58 answers total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
if you celebrate Christmas...
Birthday Cake for Jesus!
posted by calgirl at 12:33 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is something I never really thought about as a kid, but looking back was so important to our family- we ate dinner together every night. It might have changed a little once some of the older siblings were in h.s. and in activities, but that expectation of everyone around the table, tv off (i guess now it'd be no phones?) was fundamental to the family.

If you're interested in family traditions, there's a great book, How to Celebrate Everything, about creating rituals and family traditions.
The author writes a blog called Dinner a Love Story and advocates family dinner, too.
posted by ceramicblue at 12:44 PM on February 17, 2018 [25 favorites]

For Christmas, after we decorated the tree, we'd all get together and play "I See on the Christmas Tree," which is basically I Spy (With my Little Eye) but with the various Christmas tree ornaments.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:46 PM on February 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

we ate dinner together every night
This! It does so much good from learning about food preparation, table manners, conversation, catching up on the day, etc. Because we all ate the same thing, it cut any food fussiness in the bud, and it helped develop healthy eating habits - no snacking, wait for dinner. It was one of the defining elements of being 'a family'; it was an important event we all shared every day and I loved it!
posted by Thella at 12:53 PM on February 17, 2018 [17 favorites]

Going for walks together as a family, especially after a holiday meal we enjoyed together. This tradition included a pretty awesome annual father-daughter New Year's Day walk where we started at my house with my dad, me, and my sister, and then we walked around the neighborhood collecting fathers and daughters along the walk.
posted by belau at 1:13 PM on February 17, 2018 [10 favorites]

For a long time when I was a child, we had something called [Surname] Family Fun Night (our surname starts with "f", so it was nicely alliterative). Every Friday night, we did something fun together as a family. It might have been crafts, or boardgames, or watching a movie - nothing super fancy, but always enjoyable togetherness time.

On Thanksgiving, my dad would take my sisters and me for a hike or nature walk before Thanksgiving dinner. I realize now that this was mostly so that we would be out of my mom's way, but it was something I always looked forward to.

After we decorated the Christmas tree (always in the evening), we'd get everyone a glass of eggnog and we'd turn out all the lights but the tree and have quiet contemplative conversation in the semi-darkness. That's what Christmas looks like to me.

We have a second birthday song for singing after the more generally known Happy Birthday Song. It surprises our guests every time.
posted by darchildre at 1:18 PM on February 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

Family recipes. Our family has a sacred family chocolate cake that we fiercely guarded from all outsiders. Another family I know made recipe books for their kids with their faves. A fair number of these are like, Silver Palate soups-- does not matter at all for the affectionate passage of the tradition.
posted by peppercorn at 1:18 PM on February 17, 2018

Homemade pizza Fridays, every single Friday.

Asking “how old are you?” at goodnight time the night before your birthday, and again first thing the next morning.

Having goodnight tuck-in time.

Recipes (preferably from your heritage) you only and always make on big holidays.

Having a funny made-up song and dance performed by a parent while taking a sick kid’s temperature, to pass the time and try to make them crack up and spit the thermometer out.
posted by kapers at 1:27 PM on February 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

We had a live tree (brought indoors not long before the 24th, taken out no later than the 6th) and real candles. The candles were lit last thing on the 24th; everyone got a pet to cuddle/control and my parents lit the upper candles and we turned out the electric lights and put on an (increasingly scratchy) record of German carols and lit the lower candles and sat there to watch them all blaze and die.

You can see the last ember really well, in the full darkness, and they can stay glowing for what seems like a long time.

(You can also see the change in flame-color if something other than a candle starts to ignite -- we all had spray bottles and wet rags and the adults had checked the charge on the fire extinguishers. )
posted by clew at 1:28 PM on February 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I know you didn't ask this, and I'm not saying don't do traditions, but: My family had a large number of traditions, ranging from "hunting" the Christmas tree we'd drag back into the house to what we'd eat on birthdays etc.

When my parents divorced when I was thirteen, those traditions were either:

a) thrown by the wayside and ignored, never spoken of again
b) re-enacted in a kind of sad pantomime for what they used to be
c) replaced by "new" traditions, that felt strange/uncomfortable and really only served to remind us kids that our conception of "family" was broken and irrevocably gone.

I'm not saying you should plan for divorce! But just consider what will happen if a tradition can't/won't go ahead. I wish we had had a bit more variety and less following of tradition when I was a kid and I know my three siblings feel the same. It's quite noticeable that none of us are huge on establishing particular family traditions around Christmas or birthdays. The loss of those really hurt us as kids.
posted by smoke at 1:40 PM on February 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

I didn't have a traditional Easter Egg hunt, I had a scavenger hunt that started with a plastic egg in my Easter basket. Inside was a clue that led to the next plastic egg and the next clue. At the end was a pretty good present.

(Note: My mother still did this as recently as like... four or five years ago. And I STILL get an Easter basket. Comrades, I'll be 41 in April.)
posted by elsietheeel at 1:46 PM on February 17, 2018 [27 favorites]

As a teenager, I babysat for a kid who grew up with a fantastic tradition: Once a week, he or his sibling (taking turns) would choose family dinner and cook it. The family began when the kids were quite young — with supervision as needed, of course. The kids got to eat their favorite foods and learn their way around the kitchen; and as the kids got older, the parents got the night off from cooking dinner.

Not having grown up with this tradition, my culinary expertise as a mid-teen was basically limited to cereal. I was amazed when this child who supposedly needed "babysitting" set about cooking an entire damn meal for both of us. I totally did not earn my hourly rate that night.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 1:47 PM on February 17, 2018 [50 favorites]

This was actually a ploy to get us to go to bed on time and an effective one, but I remember it fondly. My parents invented “the 8 o’clock king” and later “the 9 o’clock queen” who were kind of like the tooth fairy. If we went to bed on time every night of the week, Sunday morning we would wake to a small treat or toy on our nightstands (something like a Hershey’s kiss, a quarter, a bouncy ball) that the king or queen had “brought” us. At bedtime my parents would make up stories about them and they developed long complicated histories. Looking back it was really special because it was a mythology just known by our family.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 1:52 PM on February 17, 2018 [35 favorites]

My parents never bought sugary cereals for us kids, except when it was someone's birthday. Then, the birthday kid got to pick out one box of any cereal they wanted, to be opened on their birthday morning. Similarly, birthday kid got to pick out what was for dinner that night and cake (or cheesecake or pie) and ice cream flavors.

On Valentine's Day my mom made pink heart-shaped pancakes and got chocolates for each kid. On St. Patrick's Day she made green shamrock-shaped pancakes for breakfast and Irish soda bread for after school snack or with dinner. The Easter bunny visited, some years with a treasure hunt with clues. We worked together with mom to sew our own Halloween costumes. We put our boots out for St. Nick's day and got candy and small gifts.

Every year we made a gingerbread replica of our house and on Epiphany we demolished it at a demolition party with cousins or neighborhood kids.

For Christmas, each of us kids was responsible for getting a present for each other person in the family. When we were really little, I think my parents paid, but by the time we were elementary-aged, we had to budget for and buy the presents out of our own money (allowance and birthday money). I think this was a really good lesson in budgeting and thinking about what others would want, as well as experiencing the joys of giving, plus it meant three small gifts from siblings to open on Christmas morning. We had a family rule that us kids could open anything in our stockings on Christmas morning before parents were up, but we had to wait to open anything under the tree until mom had her coffee. When my parents moved to Canada when my siblings and I were in our late teens and twenties, and none of us had the time or budget to travel out of country at the holidays, my siblings and I kept our family traditions and started having "Sibling Christmas" with the four of us and our significant others and kids.

Growing up we always ate dinner together as a family (unless someone was away at a sleepover or school activity that provided dinner) with the TV off. No one in the family had cell phones back then, and if the kitchen landline phone rang, mom or dad would answer and tell them we were eating dinner, then hang up. Everyone was expected to talk about their day and stay at the table until everyone was done.

By the time us kids were school age, we were expected to either help cook the meal or help clean up. My parents encouraged us to be creative in the kitchen, and as we got older, we could get out of doing dishes if we made a dessert.

When the weather was nice, we went for evening (after work for my dad) bike rides to the nearby frozen custard stand and each of us kids got a kiddie cone. We also went for a lot of walks round the block, to the school playground, or to the creek.

When my mom taught a Jazzercise class at night, my dad would make cookies and we'd all watch MacGyver. Once I was a teenager, my parents let me sneak back downstairs after my younger siblings were sleeping and watch Masterpiece with them; I felt very grown-up!

We played a lot of board games as a family, both with immediate family and as a major part of gatherings with extended family.

My mom put each of us kids in charge of one of the raised beds in the backyard every summer. We had to add any soil amendments, decide what to plant, weed, water, and harvest what we grew in that bed.

Every summer we went on a 2-3 week camping trip to state, provincial, and national parks around the US and Canada. Each kid was in charge of packing their own bag. Long distance driving with a family of six in a minivan with a bunch of camping gear built a lot of traditions of games played on the road, special camping foods, etc.

My parents read aloud to us from some of their favorite childhood/young adult chapter books when we were still too young to read them ourselves. This lead to a lot of shared literary references, like naming the family camping Swiss Army knife "Sting".

My mom's side of the family has a family reunion that is epic and was the highlight of the year as a child. 4-5 days at a rented out 4-H camp with all your cousins, swimming, canoeing, playing games, and running around was a blast.

When I was a twenty-something, my mom's siblings started having "Apple Fest", a mini-family-reunion gathering at the old family farmhouse that my uncle now lives in and has a hobby orchard at. I still remember the moment when some of my younger cousins, for whom Apple Fest is something we have always done, realized that not every family celebrated Apple Fest and it wasn't a "real" holiday. At Apple Fest, everyone must make at least one dish, and everything must have apples in it. No measuring or use of written recipes is allowed, except the old 1950's church ladies cookbooks that live in the farm kitchen. You have to name your dish (a pun with the name of the Apple variety, usually) and write it on the list taped to the wall. The lists are then saved and posted in subsequent years. Board games, card games, video games, and tabletop games are played whenever you are not eating, cooking, or picking things to be cooked and eaten. It's tons of fun. Wacky family holidays for the win!
posted by abeja bicicleta at 1:52 PM on February 17, 2018 [18 favorites]

Christmas, we always stayed home all day, just our family. Grandparents might come over to see us for a visit. Christmas dinner, mom would cook whatever we wanted. So 4 people equaled 2 or 3 meals.

Birthdays too, we got to pick our meal.
posted by hydra77 at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fridays are family night, aka (*****) Night (stupid made up name that works for our family.) We have a *** Night king or queen, which goes in rotation by birthday. Said king or queen gets to pick what's for dinner, dessert and what we'll do (TV show, board game, etc.) No electronics are allowed until the k/q determines that **** Night is over. We're going on 15 years of this tradition.

We also welcome The Great Turkey on Thanksgiving Eve. The children write a question to TGT and put it in a roasting pan, which is then placed on the front porch for the night. They awaken to small treats in the roasting pan and their questions to TGT are answered. Ridiculous, and we love it. The kids did not know for A LONG TIME that other families do not also make queries of TGT. Good times!
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 2:15 PM on February 17, 2018 [26 favorites]

Each child in our generation was given a Christmas tree ornament each year (usually dated, often from Hallmark) from each family set (uncles/aunts, parents, grandparents) every year, usually themed to an important thing that year (skis the year we first skied, books the year I finished library school, cars when we turned 16) that then go with the “child” when they move out & have their first tree. So instead of empty nest, my mom is reveling in decorating “her” trees with a new theme of her own each year. And we’re all set for our first solo tree.
posted by librarianamy at 2:45 PM on February 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is so small and I don't even remember how it started with the kids, but we have 5 Second Dance Party. The rules are that anyone at any time can shout "5 Second Dance Party!" and everyone must immediately stop what they are doing, jump up, and dance. No music involved, but a lot of giggling.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 3:00 PM on February 17, 2018 [28 favorites]

I love reading these! General rec, keep doing these even if you have a snotty eye rolling teen for a couple of years. The traditions will comfort them deep down and add steadiness to an unsteady time, and if they’re mocking you for your laaame tradition, at least they’re enjoying themselves in their own way.
posted by kapers at 3:08 PM on February 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

At our house the Tooth Fairy brings gold dollar coins. For the first tooth, the coins had fairy dust (glitter glue) and were accompanied by a congratulatory note from the TF.

We don't have a chimney, so the story goes that mom wrote a letter to Santa when first kiddo was born, asking for a special Santa key. It's a magical key that only Santa knows how to use. It gets put on the outside of the front door handle on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning it is always found next to the cookie plate (It's a Victorian-looking key from Michael's that I put on a large beaded circle wire).
posted by vignettist at 3:11 PM on February 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Homemade Christmas cookies for breakfast on Christmas Day.

Family dinner night - OUT. Once a week we go out to eat. It can range from very cheap (Eat N Park, a diner) to fancy. No electronics, but sometimes there is homework to be reviewed and discussed. We sit and talk and there is no pressure to cook, clear or clean. It is my favorite night of the week.

Whenever my spouse goes away on business for more than an overnight, Boy theBRKP and I will go have ice cream for dinner.

Boy theBRKP also does one-on-one time with each of us. Both my mom and dad did this with my siblings and me as kids and I treasure those memories.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 3:12 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh man. How can I forget one free mental health school skip day per year (or quarter if there’s an available parent), to be spent at the mall or ice skating or out to lunch or whatever for some one on one parent-child time.
posted by kapers at 3:19 PM on February 17, 2018 [8 favorites]

We didn't get a lot of sweets, but on our birthdays and on the day after Halloween we could eat all the sugar we wanted. On Nov 2 all Halloween candy went into the freezer until our birthday.

When I was little I learned that if I asked a lot of questions, the bedtime story took longer and I got to stay up later. So my parents instituted my "10s" (or maybe it was called "10 minutes") which was 10 minutes spent with one or the other parent before bedtime. With my mom it was usually reading; with my dad I tended to play gin rummy. My dad kept an "eternal scorecard" that kept track of the rummy scores night after night. I think it went up to 1000 points. (Apparently the first time they instituted this, I was like, "what do you mean the time is up?" when story time didn't get past a page or two of the book.)

This is not really a tradition, but when we were sick my dad bought pineapple juice for us rather than the more common orange juice. To this day, I want pineapple juice when I am sick, and it makes me feel taken care of.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:23 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

So nice to read all these! My mom made breakfast for dinner on the night we decorated the Christmas tree. I celebrate EVERYTHING ... at least one night of Chanukah, Mardi Gras, Chinese New Year, Nowruz, Diwali ... all with appropriate food for sure, then add music, decorations, etc. as is feasible. Celebrating different cultural holidays is a great way of marking the seasons and introducing kids to the world, and it's FUN! (She says, polishing off another leftover potsticker....)
posted by cyndigo at 3:33 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes, now that Chanukah is mentioned: each child got one (small) present per night. Each night the present was hidden and we had to find it. When we got older we could choose to get one large present instead of 8 small ones.

In the summer we sometimes went berry picking at (wild, public) places that my dad somehow learned about.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:38 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Walking the dog/s together. The whole family would walk the dog together every evening before dinner. Then we kids would feed the dog, then we'd have our food. My parents liked to put the idea that pets came before our own needs and I loved that time just walking & talking together. Rain, hail or shine the dog/s got a walk. It was exercise, but also what I miss most about it now I'm all grown up is the talking about well mostly nothing at all, oh look Mrs so & so's roses are up, oh look a kookaburra etc. We'd talk about our lives, hopes, school etc on these walks too. Even if you just do it weekly I highly recommend it.
posted by wwax at 3:41 PM on February 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

After the (real) Christmas tree is ready for recycling, we dramatically push it out of the 1.5 story high window and let it fall to the ground. This amazes children.

There is a "broken glass fairy" who is responsible for all the shards of broken glass found in alleys and such. She is friends with the tooth fairy and if the tooth fairy has been partying too hard will occasionally sub for her, leaving a note under the child's pillow explaining the scenario.

At Easter, we dye eggs red using onion skins. We hard boil them and then have "egg fights." One person holds the egg in their hand and the challenger approaches holding their egg. The challenger taps their egg against the defender... if the shell breaks, you can flip your egg over and try the other end. Your egg is eliminated when both ends are broken.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 3:45 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

My dad had a birthday party every year and invited all my and my brother's kids out to an ice cream place. I think this lasted until I was in 8th grade or so.

This is fun to answer, and it's fun to read others' answers. Thanks for asking the question. I hope you get some good ideas for your own family.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:45 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eating smoked oysters with saltines on Christmas Eve. Is this a thing people do? Who knows, but I love it!

Also, most holidays at my mom’s house involve many many games of the Original Bop-It.
posted by sucre at 3:58 PM on February 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

Polar Bear Plunging on New Year's Day! I've been doing it on my own for years, but with a cheering squad. And this last year I got my partner's 7 year old to join me.

My mom also used to always serve toast points, chopped hard-boiled egg, and caviar on New Year's Day for breakfast.
posted by brookeb at 4:40 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have summer Christmas for my little boy. In July, we put up the fake tree and decorate it, watch Christmas movies, open some presents and play with his new toys for the rest of the day. Super fun!

We also have “summer birthday” because his birthday is in the winter. We bake a cake together and sing happy birthday, and he gets a little gift.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 5:46 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Several xmas eves ago my eldest daughter ( age 7 at the time ) had a tantrum and slammed her bedroom door so hard the lock broke. She trapped herself inside. We realized this, attempted to pass a screwdriver under the door so she could free herself but she wasn't able to turn the screws. Her younger sisters sat outside her bedroom crying that they would never see her again and Mom passed flat food under the door so she wouldn't starve. This is how we came to own a 20' ladder bought from home depot just before they closed for the day. I climbed up the outside of the house, opened her window and rolled in, took the door apart and released her. Then we all went downstairs to have apple pancakes.

We now re-enact this whole thing every xmas eve.
posted by roue at 5:59 PM on February 17, 2018 [46 favorites]

Pancakes for breakfast every Sunday morning. I make cinnamon buns for breakfast on Christmas.

For a long time we had homemade Chinese food on Jan 1, ie Chinese New Years.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:01 PM on February 17, 2018

I asked this very question 13 years ago (holy crap 13 years ago) and got some good answers. But I don't think we borrowed any of them. Our family traditions all grew kind of organically. Some of my favorites are:

(1) For Easter, we keep the fun stuff like baskets and eggs and candy and stuff, but we skip going to any kind of church and go fly kites at a local park instead. Then we eat Mexican food and leave a giant tip for the guy working on Easter Sunday.

(2) For Thanksgiving (when we host it), we always eat burritos the night before. That started just because one year we ate burritos and then the next year I really wanted burritos so I said "it's the night before thanksgiving tradition" and once we did it twice it really became that. It's dumb and pointless but it's fun.

(3) For our annual vacation we go to a different National Park with our best friends and their family. So far we have driven to many of them, so they make for some epic road trips with stuff along the way.

(4) For Mother's Day, we get the visits with our own moms done the day before, and then go to the beach (Lake Michigan) all day. It's often chilly and windy but that means it's also quiet.

(5) For our wedding anniversary in October each year, we go as a family to a pumpkin farm. We have done it every year since before we had kids, so it has been neat doing it as young people, then as young parents of babies, then of middle-aged parents of young kids, and now as middle-aged parents of teenagers.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:18 PM on February 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Backwards Day, with breakfast for dinner, usually pancakes and bacon and some fruit, but cereal is not unheard-of.
Dessert for dinner if local strawberries are available and you can have strawberry shortcake with tons of strawberries, homemade shortcakes, whipped cream and ice cream.
Going apple-picking.
Watching the Perseid meteor shower.
posted by theora55 at 6:46 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I was in high school, a bunch of my friends and I would go bowling on Christmas night (started because the only things to do on Christmas were go to a movie or go bowling). Some extended part of our social circle kept that tradition alive for at least ten years.

Something that my parents started doing when I was in college—which they eventually stopped doing, but which I have continued where I live—is to host an open house on New Year's Day where we serve a large quantity of chili. This is probably more a thing for adults than kids, but having done this for about 12 years, I can report that people look forward to it and even ask about it before I send out the invites.
posted by adamrice at 6:52 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

We will almost always, for Christmas, have someone read Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales aloud... It's quite lovely and funny, and takes about 20 minutes. We also had cinnamon buns for Christmas breakfast, special sugar cereal for birthdays, and family dinner every week night, all of which I still think fondly of as an adult.
posted by EmilyFlew at 6:57 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

We did a lot of the usual stuff: Christmas cookies, specially-chosen birthday dinners, yearly ornaments, etc. Two of the things that stood out as somewhat unusual, though:

-When I was 12 or 13, I got a Gyro Prolight bike helmet for my birthday. It came in perhaps the most perfectly-sized box ever made, and so for the next 15+ years, each of us would get a birthday present wrapped in a bike helmet box, and at Christmas, one of us would be honored with a gift in the bike helmet box. Part of the tradition became to exclaim "ooooh, a bike helmet!" as you opened it, even though you knew it wasn't a bike helmet. This persisted well past when we stopped getting actual presents, and so my dad would just tape some cash in the bike helmet box. It was a big honor to be the one who got the bike helmet at Christmas.

-Whenever we would buy clothes, we would come home and hold a "fashion show" as we tried them on. We'd go back into our rooms to change into the new clothes, and then walk out to the living room to show them off to the rest of the family. I still actually do this, and it weirds my wife out when I exclaim "fashion show!" after she gets back from like, TJMaxx or something.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:17 PM on February 17, 2018 [21 favorites]

Some traditions in my family with my kids--we grew all these ourselves:

Our family has a motto that is invoked with some frequency. The motto relates to approaching (but never quite attaining) civilization. Whenever someone does something that is more civilized than might otherwise be expected (home improvement projects, fancy hair style, effortful dinner menu, rite of passage, etc), it is almost always met with enthusiastic cries of the family motto.

I send off my younger kid to bed with the same good night phrase every single night.

Kids and I eat dinner at the table every night at 6 pm.

In recent years, it's become something of a tradition for my teenagers and I to go to the local art museum on a Sunday morning with our sketchbooks. We arrive when it opens, split up for a few hours to find a quiet place to draw, then have lunch at the cafeteria. We do this every month or so (and will tomorrow).
posted by Sublimity at 7:38 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

My mom hid a “pot of gold” (old brass spittoon full of Rolos) on St. Patrick’s Day for us to find.

Somehow at one of our early birthday parties, my sister and I got inspired to gather up all the balloons and tie a small plush Donald Duck to them so he could sort of hover around all day. This continued for several birthday parties and we never took much time to explain it. I hadn’t thought about that in years.

Tube-shaped, cheese-filled foods on special occasions, even if we had no ethnic ties to them (blintzes were marginal; we had no business doing enchiladas or manicotti but it never stopped us).

Watching the Olympics, we used to make fun of the “Everyman” commentator on NBC — the guy whose job it was to ask lots of silly questions about the sport so the audience could understand it. Over time the game evolved into “Clueless Commentators,” e.g. watching diving and saying “Oh, no! They fell in the water!”

When Mom was alive, political debates and elections were always cause for snacking and intergenerational drinking — our Super Bowl, really. We toasted with bubbly for Obama in ‘08.
posted by armeowda at 7:38 PM on February 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

One more I’ve missed since Mom died: when cooking pasta, she’d call “Where’s my spaghetti tester?” and that was Dad’s cue to come judge done-ness. (Always a little beyond al dente, of course.)
posted by armeowda at 7:43 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sunday mornings always started with accompanying whichever parent was up first to pick up the essentials — a dozen bagels, cream cheese, lox, and the Sunday New York Times. Everyone in the family would have 1 egg (this was in the days of FEAR of cholesterol) and a bagel prepared to their liking (schmear, red onion, etc.) and spread out the NYT all over the table and graze and eat and watch the Sunday morning news shows (Meet the Press, etc.). (note: this was remarkable in that the TV was never on during the daytime otherwise, and it would be promptly turned off at noon.) Even when I wasn't that interested in politics as a kid/teen, I'd still look at all the glossy Sunday Style section pics, read the movie reviews, etc., and generally hang out and hear my parents talk about what was going on in the world.
posted by pants at 7:59 PM on February 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Not quite traditions in the traditional sense, but these are things I fondly remember occuring with frequency when I was early gradeschool age:

We used to have a globe on a stand and it became a game between my dad and I to spin it, stick your finger somewhere on the map, and then try to guess the country that was under your finger.

Back when I was a kid, Encarta Encyclopedia (interactive encyclopedia on CD-ROM) was a thing and my mom and I would go "visit" a different country every so often by looking at the article for the country and learn all about its music and language and cities. It was something I really enjoyed -- I don't think she realized just how much.

My dad would pick me up early from school on one of the last days (where nothing really happens) and we'd do something fun together -- like opening up the swimming pool, going to the museum, going to a concert.

My sister and I both liked to make art and we used to have an "art sale" where we'd arrange our drawings down the hallway or around our bedrooms and then tell our parents that the "gallery" was open so they could stroll through and appreciate them in the way only parents can appreciate their kids' not very skillful renderings. Sometimes we made invitations.

My dad would take me to the bookstore fairly often -- once every couple weeks - and buy me a new book to read. Sometimes we'd have story time and I would read them to him later.

My parents sometimes wanted me out of their hair and so they'd send me to my aunt's house for part of the weekend. I actually never questioned why they were shipping me off and was excited for "sleepovers" at my aunt's house. It was always fun because my aunt is a fun person who likes kids (and has loads of patience) and would always be happy to listen to me chat about school and video games or play her in super Nintendo or gather up my uncle and grandpa along with myself to go play skeeball at the arcade etc etc. And then usually we'd rent a movie to watch before bed.

We'd often go to my other aunt's house for holidays. They lived in a house with a semi-finished basement (just concrete floors) so the adults let my cousin and I rollerblade around the basement while they talked about boring grown-up stuff.
posted by sevenofspades at 8:22 PM on February 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Our family traditions around birthdays seemed relatively small and common: someone sings the birthday song, the cake is cut, and the birthday person is fed the first bite of cake by another family member or friend.

I didn't realise how much I missed those traditions until my most recent birthday when I realised at the end of the night that no one had sang Happy Birthday to me (I had friends the whole day but the song never happened) and there was no cake. I didn't specifically ask, but I got really depressed and it took me like a day or two to realise what the problem was.

A day or so later at choir practice they sang the song to me (they always sing it if someone had a birthday that week), and later that week a couple of friends who heard about me being sad got me some cake from Dominos of all places and did the song & cake-feeding thing, and I finally felt like my birthday was complete.

(I now try to spread the cake-feeding thing when I can.)
posted by divabat at 2:01 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

We have a family nativity scene bought at a tag sale that we have expanded over the years with penguin figurines, Ninja turtles, etc. My brothers and I still have fun setting it up. (We are not religious.)

My uncle used to write us a turkey poem every Thanksgiving which would be read with great ceremony.

A friend's family used to host a screening of Groundhog Day every year in their old farmhouse.

Thank you for asking this!
posted by chaiminda at 5:12 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I was once invited to Christmas at a friend's house where the whole family did a homemade secret Santa. Many people were crafty but others made cookies or other food for each other.
posted by chaiminda at 5:15 AM on February 18, 2018

Taco Tuesdays
Puzzles or game nights in general
Geocaching and/or homemade scavenger hunts
Camping at one place, same time every year
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 6:06 AM on February 18, 2018

Indoor camping! My parents are not outdoorsy people but my brothers and I always wanted the camping experience that we saw on TV and cartoons. So my parents borrowed a tent from my aunt and uncle and we 3 kids set up camp in the living room, "roasting marshmallows" over an imaginary fire, reading by flashlight, and sleeping in the tent with piles of pillows and blankets. Great fun.

Music to rouse the household on holiday mornings. I can't imagine this is a tradition in any other Filipino families, or indeed in any other families at all, but it doesn't feel like Christmas morning unless my dad is blaring his mix of Mariah Carey and traditional Christmas carols over the house speaker system!

We had a big Easter Egg hunt with all the cousins and extended family at our house one year that I remember fondly. There were probably hundreds of plastic eggs that each had a coin inside (ranging from a penny to a quarter) and the kids got to keep whatever money they found. The kids under 4 got to go first; then after 5 minutes all the kids under 8; and so on until the teenagers were set loose. Our family was much more excited about coins than jellybeans or chocolate, haha, and everyone eats too much during the Easter feast anyway.

There were a few years when we 3 kids and my mom all slept together in the same big bedroom (sleeping arrangements were very flexible at our house). When she turned off the light, we had an elaborate set of rhymes for goodnight playing off "See you later, alligator" and it was always fun to try and think of new ones to add to the ever-growing list that we said to each other before falling asleep.

Saying tearfully and dramatically "Goodbye, see you next year!" when we went to bed on New Year's Eve.

I loved reading all of these. Thanks, everyone.
posted by wintersonata9 at 8:23 AM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

How can I best answer any of these? These are all so amazing and in addition to being helpful, they really lifted my spirits. Thanks everyone!!!
posted by caoimhe at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

My dad was a stay at home parent, and my brother and I almost always went home for lunch from elementary school. On St. Patrick's Day every year, my dad fed us milk dyed green with food colouring and celery for lunch (probably with a sandwich or whatever, I don't remember the rest). As an adult, I love this memory so much because it's such a small and weird thing.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:41 PM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

We always have hot cocoa for the first snowfall of the year!
posted by Andrhia at 4:00 PM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Great traditions!

One we started a few years ago (10?) was going out for exercise on Thanksgiving morning. A family walk -- not a stroll around the block, but an honest-to-goodness hike of some distance that required actual effort; or, more recently, organized running events. Many communities have them now. The exercise makes everyone more relaxed, and the food tastes even better.
posted by slab_lizard at 10:28 PM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

A big one at our cottage/summer cabin/lake house or whatever your preferred regional term:

Badminton (or insert game here) For Dishes. Family badminton game after dinner with the winners exempt from doing dishes/cleanup. Started as teams of one parent/one kid, as we aged became kids vs parents until we got too good and that was the end of that tradition.

Another which I would not recommend (hey it was the 70's) -- once a year my dad would declare "All You Can Eat Dessert" which is precisely as it sounds. Anything we wanted in the kitchen was up for grabs -- ice cream, chocolate chips, coconut, Jello powder straight out of the box. And none of us are diabetic today.

Family walk on (Canadian) Thanksgiving, tossing a football and collecting leaves to decorate the dinner table.
posted by raider at 9:32 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

One tradition my sister's family (4 kids) has for encouraging exploration for picky/scaredycat-to-try-new-things, a family chant any time anyone, including grownups, tries something they were not sure that they would like, food or otherwise. It's okay if they still don't like the thing even after they try it, no pressure to make the kid who hates the texture of strawberries love it if they're really just not into strawberries, it's the trying that they embrace, and encouraging all the kids to support one another.

The cheer is vaguely high school basketball cheer excitement level. My sister usually starts it with pep rally clapping and calling of attention by all to the person trying the new thing. Then the cheer itself is repeated three times, in increasing volume and intensity, followed at the end by jazz hands, and whoops and whistles for the successful try-er.

S/he tried it.
and then s/he liked it.

S/he TRIED it!!
and then S/HE LIKED IT!!

posted by mcbeth at 10:03 AM on February 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

My family had a collection of special pillow cases that were only used before certain holidays. So the week of your birthday, birthday pillowcase. Week before Christmas, Christmas pillow case. We also had Easter, ones and a summer one for last day of school.

I think part of the magic is that my mom (a stay at home mom) changed our sheets every Monday, so a lot of times it would slip your mind, and then when you went to bed that night...bam...special pillow case...something fun is coming up!
posted by aviatrix at 7:13 PM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

We'd usually get new pajamas on Christmas Eve (laid out in the hall or on our beds after our bath/shower that night).

My brother and I also had special birthday breakfasts -- his was McDonald's for a long time (my mom would take him before school, even). Mine was tiny Swedish oatmeal pancakes with blueberry sauce. Yeah, sometimes we'd have these things at other times during the year, but it was fun to know we'd get that on our birthdays.

School skip days were also great (and I guess they could also be parental skip days, too). Depending on how old we were, it may have been just one of us with a parent. We'd just go shopping or whatever and get something small at the mall.

It's less a tradition and harder to do now, but we'd definitely gather and watch TV when I was a kid. Family movie night was less regular but still a thing (with the requisite junk food/candy).
posted by darksong at 6:01 PM on February 20, 2018

We set up a jigsaw puzzle in a side room off the main dining area during Thanksgiving. Whenever anyone needs a little quiet time/down time, the socially acceptable way to isolate yourself is to go work on the jigsaw puzzle for a while. It's extremely calming and I highly recommend it!
posted by mostly vowels at 7:25 PM on February 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Being warned to hold on to your knickers when the car goes over a bump
Seeing if the milk has been delivered by asking if there's a cow's nest
Calling ten to ten "cowboy time" (sound of hooves apparently, tentotentotentotento)
Putting sherry, a mince pie and a carrot out for Santa
Being seen off with "watch them roads!" and "mind that dogdirt" by grandad
A variety pack of sugary cereal as a special treat on the summer camping holiday
"Night night sleep tight hope the bugs don't bite" from granny
posted by runincircles at 4:51 PM on February 24, 2018

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