Christmas is one of those magical times of year that makes us feel warm inside and reminds us to focus on our families. But when your kids start growing into teens, they may not value the importance of keeping your Christmas traditions intact.
In this article, Vanessa Hunt shares her experience with her own teenagers and imparts some wisdom about adapting Christmas traditions to help keep your teens connected this year.
On a cold December evening in the late 1980s, I was eagerly and reverently unpacking Christmas ornaments in anticipation of our annual family tradition of decorating the tree together. This was one of my most favorite days of the season. A time when we shut out the rest of the world and it was just the four of us. Mom would make hot cocoa and make sure that Perry Como was crooning away on the record player. Dad would wage a battle with the trunk of the tree as he wrestled it into the stand. And my older sister and I would look through our ornament collection, sharing the memories that each one evoked while trying not to laugh as my parents debated over which side of the tree was the most perfect to have turned toward the front. But, this particular year, something had changed. As I sat in front of the ornament boxes, ready to dive in, my sister came out of her room, put her coat on, and hollered to us, “I’m going out with friends tonight! See you later!”
How could this have happened? Why would she rather go out with friends on a Friday night instead of decorating the Christmas tree? It was a tradition! And, in our family, traditions were very important. Growing up, we moved around quite a bit. So traditions became one of the few things that provided me with a sense of continuity in my life when so many things were changing. Traditions can bring us so much comfort and stability when everything around us feels as though it’s anything but stable. So, how could my sister suddenly not want to be a part of this tradition with us?
Well, fast forward to my life now as a mom of teenagers and I know the answer to that question. Not surprisingly, traditions play an important role in our household, and at no other time is that more apparent than during the Christmas season. We bake goodies using recipes handed down through generations, drive around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights, celebrate Advent by lighting a new candle each Sunday, and every year, my kids each get a new ornament to hang on the trees they have in their bedrooms.
But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned throughout motherhood is that, without flexibility, even the most sincerely heartfelt and well-intentioned goals can become a burden. And, in this stage, I’m finding that to be especially true when it comes to our holiday traditions. When my kids were little, after tromping through the woods in search of the perfect fresh tree, we used to all yell “TIMBER” at the top of our lungs as my husband cut through the trunk and we watched it fall to the ground. Now, they beg us not to make a scene and roll their eyes at me as I sing, “Oh Christmas Tree” in my very best operatic voice. I have no idea why that would be so embarrassing! Once upon a time, they fought over who got to put on the very first ornament. Now, they would much prefer to let me do all of the work and simply enjoy the finished product.
As we moved into the tween and teen years, I found myself wondering how I could embrace this new stage without completely abandoning the traditions that we’ve cherished and nurtured for so many years. How do we keep traditions alive while allowing room for change? Here are just a few of the ways that I’ve navigated this challenging dynamic.
While much of the wonder and delight that you experience with younger children during the holiday season may be gone, having older kids means a whole new world of fun opportunities have opened up. Your holiday movie marathon may no longer include the “Polar Express” but it might include “It’s a Wonderful Life” which could lead to some great conversations about faith and eternity. Or, consider hosting a movie night at your home and encourage your kids to invite their friends over. Trust me when I tell you that if you offer food and beverages, they will come!
Speaking of food, you can’t go wrong with a hot cocoa bar. When my kids were little, I would make their hot cocoa for them and have it waiting on the counter. But, now that they are older, the hot cocoa bar is a favorite spot in our home for our teens and their friends throughout the entire winter season. Jars filled with assorted toppings, peppermint sticks, and fun straws put a grown-up twist on this tradition—and you don’t have to worry about little hands getting into the goodies when you’re not looking. Of course, adult-sized hands like to sneak a treat or two sometimes too, right?
For our family, Christmas offers an extra opportunity to practice generosity both with our time and our money. When our kids were little, we determined how we would serve those around us. But, as they’ve gotten older, we’ve encouraged them to do their own research and pray about how they can offer their resources to those in need. You can even take it a step further and volunteer together. The act of serving others can be an incredible bonding experience as a family and will help to foster the spirit of giving that will carry them into adulthood.
There’s no better time for your kids to practice those favorite family recipes so let them take the lead when it comes to baking your traditional treats. Encourage them to look up the recipes and do the shopping for ingredients on their own. You’ll get to enjoy the same goodies that you’ve always had during the season while they hone their skills in the kitchen and prepare to take over hosting duties someday. Trust me that baking everything on your own is a tradition you will be very happy to adjust as you enjoy a little more rest and relaxation.
When our kids were little, celebrating Advent felt more sloppy than sacred. Nobody wanted to sit still very long to listen to the unfolding story of Jesus’ birth, and there were epic battles over who got to light the candle each week followed by another epic battle over who got to blow them out. We were very intentional about keeping the reading time to a minimum and it was all over in a matter of minutes. But, now that they are older, Advent has truly become a time for reflection and connection as we prepare our hearts to honor the birth of our Savior. Our kids take turns reading from Scripture and we like to add some thought-provoking questions to create opportunities for faith building. While there are often still battles over who gets to light and blow out the candles (some things never change!), we have found that in this stage of parenting, there are so many more ways to add depth to this tradition.
REMEMBERING THE WHY
As our families grow and change, it’s more important than ever that we keep our traditions alive while leaving room for adjustments. Tween, teens, and young adults need to know that some things remain a constant in their lives. Even when you see the occasional rolling of the eyes, I promise you that deep down, your older kids still love the predictability of those traditions. And, in a stage of life where so much is changing, they provide them with a great deal of security. I’m 45 years old and my mom still sends me my own special Christmas tree ornament each year, continuing the tradition she began when I was a baby.
I firmly believe that while the world around us is constantly tugging and pulling, making demands on our time and attention, traditions serve as an opportunity to bring us together. They act as an anchor, connecting us to something solid and enduring. And, during the Christmas season, they center us around the most important tradition of all: Celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
How have you adapted treasured family traditions as your children have grown? We’d love to hear your ideas!
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