Saturday 17 November 2018

Well-being: Steeped in tradition

Heartwarming festive family customs are the gifts that keep on giving

Send Christmas cards to your neighbours. Stock photo: Getty
Send Christmas cards to your neighbours. Stock photo: Getty
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Every family has their own time-honoured Christmas traditions. Some go sea swimming on Christmas morning; some don't get out of their pyjamas for the entire day.

Some families feel duty-bound to play Monopoly; some families only consider it to be Christmas when they're sitting in front of the television, turkey sandwich in hand, watching Doctor Who.

Festive traditions bring a sense of order to the chaos that is Christmas but, more than that, they bring families closer together - both literally and figuratively.

Traditions are a team sport, and a reminder that every family member is a key player. They remind us that family takes precedence over all else; they shape our family narrative, and they give us a sense of security and grounding.

Maybe that's why family traditions - the Christmas ones especially - are ingrained so quickly. If you buy matching Christmas pyjamas for the children two years running, well, it's fairly safe to assume that you'll do it every year thereafter.

The new traditions that we start now are likely to stick, not just in this generation, but in the generations thereafter. So it's worth thinking about the foundations that you are building.

Sure, traditions are meaningful by their very nature, but some make more impact than others. Here we suggest a few family traditions that promote a mindful, peaceful, charitable Christmas.

Do a digital detox - Most people would like to try a digital detox but they struggle to find a quiet time to log off in an always-on world. If you've been contemplating a hiatus from screens and social media, consider the stretch between St Stephen's Day and New Year's Eve. It's the ideal time to put your phones and tablets in a drawer and experience life without the security blanket of an iPhone interface.

Practise random acts of kindness - Pay for someone's petrol; leave a book on a bench with a note inside; give an extra-generous tip... Otherwise, why not create a Random Acts of Kindness advent calendar for your children? Instead of getting a treat every day, they get to give a treat to someone else.

Reimagine Black Friday - Just as we now dedicate a day to shopping during the festive season, why not try dedicating a day to not shopping too? Eat food that's already in the cupboards (there will be more than enough) and leave the car at home. It's a little reminder that we're in control of money during a season when money tends to take control of us. A 'spending fast', as it is known, is the antidote to the rampant consumerism of Christmas.

Make a family charity donation - People who give money to charity are proven to be happier and healthier than those who don't. So if you want to have a truly contented Christmas, consider a group donation to a charity that the whole family supports.

Write a gratitude list to Santa - A study out of the University of Illinois, which sampled 900 adolescents aged between 11 to 17, established a clear link between gratitude and materialism: the more gratitude the teenagers practised, the less materialistic they were.

Why not introduce your younger children to the practice of gratitude by encouraging them to write a list of all the things they're grateful for alongside their letter to Santa? It might help lower their Christmas morning expectations too.

Go on a nature walk - Children get stressed over Christmas too - only their triggers are more likely to be the sensory overload of flickering lights and the bombardment of more toys than they have time to play with. A nature walk in a local woodlands should help keep them grounded and relaxed, plus they can help you find pine cones, willow and berries to decorate the house.

Get to know your neighbours - The festive season is the ideal time to build your local support network and reach out to neighbours with whom you exchange little more than a nod during the year. Push a card through their letter box or drop them in a box of chocolates. It's a little gesture that will go a long way.

Reimagine Christmas Eve - Pub culture is slowly losing its grip on Irish society, hence more and more families are eschewing the traditional trip to their local on Christmas Eve in favour of something a little less raucous. Why not look to other cultures for inspiration? The French have Réveillon, a night-time feast that goes on for hours. Icelanders have the 'Christmas Book Flood': as one of the most literate nations in the world, they swap books on Christmas Eve and read late into the night.

Plan an adventure - We're all familiar with the anti-climatic feeling that sinks in as the festive rush starts to slow down. The best way to counteract this feeling is to have something to look forward to. With your nearest and dearest around you, take a day in late December to plan ahead, whether it's a theatre trip, a dinner or a mini-break. January is considerably easier when there's something fun on the horizon.

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