Building a Family Culture Through Holiday Traditions

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom

When I was studying for my teaching credential, I took a class on Culture. I remember that it was really important to the professor one day that we share our cultural background. Back in the 90’s the focus was on ethnic culture.

Well, my family tree was a hodge-podge of European nationalities that had lived in the US for about 100 years. There was no language, dress, or habits that tied me to my ancestors. I felt bereft of “culture” for a moment.

But then I thought about the concept we were studying. While it has many definitions, culture can be defined as the unifying characteristics of a certain people group. Well, I had that. I belonged to my family.

My parents may not have passed down the language or habits of their forefathers, but we most definitely had a family culture.

In fact, that afternoon in discussing traditions and holidays with my classmates, I found out that there were lots of things about my family, the Getskows, that made us unique, that bonded us together, that were characteristic of my parents and my siblings and me.

No one else in the room had ever heard of feeding ice cubes to their Christmas tree. And painting Christmas cookies with pastry brushes was a new one as well. No one else had retro 1970s Christmas stockings handknit by her granny — or ate See’s candy for breakfast on Christmas morning.

But we did.

Yes, we had culture, alright–it was just unique to my immediate family.

While my professor didn’t totally “get” it, I think I realized a valuable aspect of identifying with one’s culture, whether it be ethnic or just familial.

  • It helps you feel a part of something bigger than you.
  • It helps you know that you belong.
  • It ties one generation to the next.

And so while my children feed the tree ice cubes this year, hang the retro 70s stockings handknit by Nanna, and paint frosting across the tops of cookie cutouts, they’re joining a group, albeit a small group.

They are becoming more a part of our family culture.

And we’re making beautiful memories together.

This post is brought to you by Hazelnut Kids. Hazelnut Kids provides natural, earth-friendly, imaginative toys for children. Check out their helpful gift guide as you do your holiday shopping.

What quirky holiday traditions are special to your family alone?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. So profound, Jessica. I have felt left out on the culture front at times too since my family, like yours, is one of those hodgepodge European mixes that has been in America for no one knows how long. But we have our own culture. And it is just as valid as any other one. Thanks for affirming every family’s traditions!
    Jimmie’s latest post: Fifty Things to Put in a Notebook

  2. Fantastic post. Only the other day I was writing to a friend about how I was hoping to start developing some family traditions (not necessarily Christmas ones) for ourselves. We move very often (every two years) so it can sometimes feel like we lack continuity. Therefore I was thinking that as well as the excellent points you make about the value of identifying with ‘your’ culture, developing some family traditions would be a way of adding a bit of continuity to our nomadic lifestyle.
    Natalia’s latest post: Mondays are for Dreaming – Ancient Egypt

  3. ha! i totally grew up eating see’s for breakfast on christmas morning. and my husband grew up with those exact same stockings – knit by his grandma!

    i grew up moving every few years so our traditions weren’t always the same from year to year but i still have vivid memories of some of them and “feel” like they were traditions. i once had to talk in church about my family’s christmas traditions. i basically said that our tradition was to be flexible, but whatever we did focused on the savior, family, and reaching out to others. and that’s something that i can trace back through my hodgepodge of european roots.

  4. Lovely perspective. I love to encourage our children to value our family traditions and values.
    I Live in an Antbed’s latest post: I Messed Up- Again!

  5. Ditto on the pictured Christmas stockings! I still have mine made by my aunt. 🙂 For many years I somehow felt “ashamed” of my Mexican heritage, and this was in Southern CA! However, on becoming married and building a family of my own, passing on this heritage has been important, and NOT shameful. When I was very little, my family always spent Sunday’s, after Church, at my uncle’s house. Mexican food was central to the entire day! The smell of beans, tortillas, enchiladas, pulled pork…. still bring me to that time. Now, on most Sunday’s, my husband and I enjoy cooking up a Mexican feast, complete with recipes passed down from my grandmother. My children are very proud to be “1/4 Mexican”. 🙂
    Paige’s latest post: Thanksgiving 2010

  6. What a wonderful point! We also share geographic culture even when we don’t share the backgrounds of our neighbors. Lefse if a family tradition here even though we have no Norwegian ancestry, because it’s such a big Minnesota holiday tradition. I’m not touching lutefisk though! 🙂
    Magic and Mayhem’s latest post: 10 Fun Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

  7. This made me cry! I grew up in a family that didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter…in fact, we didn’t do much in the way of celebrating. My husband and I are working on establishing our own traditions for our family. Thank you for the encouragement.

  8. Hey, I also grew up eating See’s candy on Christmas morning!
    Other memories that set us apart were decorating the Christmas tree on Gaudete Sunday, the third week of Advent and having it up later than anyone else in our neighborhood. We also received a gold coin on Dec. 6th for St. Nicholas’ Day and a small gift on January 6th for Epiphany.
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith’s latest post: No Fitting Place

  9. Lovely post, I felt the same way you described about studying “culture” as an American of European decent. Then I moved to New Zealand and got a whole new view of American culture. My most recent tradition is a Christmas Ladder. I wrote about it in my last post. 🙂
    Kimberly’s latest post: Change of season…

  10. My daughters preschool recently had “cultural day” and all the children were asked to dress in something that represented their culture. Well, my family and my husbands family both immigrated to North America over 100 years ago and neither of us had stuck close to those roots. We decided to look at our more recent heritage and dress my daughter as a farmer. We often think of our culture as something being established many many years ago, but I think it’s important to not forget that culture can be developed within a single life span as long as we hold on to it.

  11. Thanks for the lovely post. I come from a DIY family; our family culture especially at the holidays centered on making things – like Christmas tree ornaments made of blown eggs with little dioramas inside.

    Somebody in my family made me one of the stockings in this picture in 1970 – it was my stocking as long as I was living with my parents. My mom still has it. Thanks for the memories!

  12. I really strive to nurture our family culture. Thanks for this reminder! And, I’ve been wanting to have my kids help water the tree, but knew they couldn’t manage the pitcher. Thanks for the ice cube idea! New for our culture =)
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: Slowing Down

  13. Allie Zirkle says:

    I have a blended family and this is so encouraging to read. Thanks Jessica!

  14. This is great, sorry only just read it. It happens to be Shrove Tuesday today and I will get the kids invloved and try to get them to understand why we celebrate it at the same time!
    Ricky’s latest post: kissimmee hotels

  15. thecoolmom says:

    Awesome post. Years ago, on a now defunct blog, I wrote a post about the culture of your home. We had people teasing us about speaking our own language, because we are constantly quoting or referencing movies we’ve seen, things we’ve heard, and books we’ve read. Toss into the mix, unique ways of saying things that have come from various children as they were growing up, and we do have our own language.

    At Christmas, we have particular books we read and movies we watch. I grew up eating Christmas Eve Chicken Salad (my great-grandmother’s recipe) on Christmas Eve night, but that has evolved. We eat it at lunchtime so we can have tamales and posole (our own, made with chicken) at night because we adopted that when we lived in Albuquerque years ago. If I can’t manage tamales, then we have green chile enchiladas.

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