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Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

This will be the fifth year that my children will be traveling home for the holidays, so the beginning of December is when I start making sure we can fit all of our holiday traditions in the short amount of time that we will be spending together.
Traditions are important, particularly in our fast-paced culture, allowing time to slow down and families to be grateful for cherished family time.

Traditions are enjoyable. We live in a fast-paced culture, and the anticipation of the holidays provides us with the comfort of time off and a relief from the stress of our everyday lives. Most traditions involve food and drink, nourishing body and soul. Traditions help create a family’s identity, forming positive bonds between family and friends. Spending a day making tamales, lighting the menorah for eight nights, crafting homemade gifts or watching holiday movies are wonderful opportunities to share and create lasting memories.

Traditions help bridge generations between family and friends. Family culture and stories are often passed down from elders during the ceremonies and rituals that we celebrate during the holidays. Intergenerational time allows for a break from electronics and time for children to learn family recipes, play games and to hear family stories. Reinforcing and nurturing family connectedness supports children’s respect for elders and encourages positive communication between family members.

Traditions remain constant and provide reassurance to children that they have a safe place to share successes, failures and fears. Our holidays and times of rest follow seasonal patterns and help mark the passing of time while also allowing for reflection upon the past year. We all need traditions to reflect upon happy celebrations in the past and to reinforce family culture. Traditions lower the stress levels from our lives and help to prevent sadness and anxiety.

Year-round traditions are equally important to mental and physical health. Calming nightly bedtime rituals not only help young people sleep better, but also help children feel valued as you spend this important time together each evening reflecting on the day. Adapting bedtime rituals as children become teens helps to maintain open, strong communication. These rituals allow for a final check-in and may lead to some enlightening conversations with your teen.

Family dinners remain one of the most positive routines to a child’s later success. Weekly pizza or take-out nights provide an opportunity for parents and children to slow down and share time together. Consider making family meal time without engaging in electronics to encourage face-to-face communication—a valuable skill for young people.

One year I made the mistake of trying to change our traditional Christmas Eve fondue meal to a different family favorite. This change was met with opposition from all and it was a mad scramble to gather the ingredients for the fondue meal. They all needed the leisurely meal of gooey warm cheese to spend time catching up. I learned to never try to change our holiday traditions and how important they have become to my now-adult children.

Consider starting a chocolate tradition. Visit our website or stop by Schmid’s on Avenida Del Mar for a box of Triton Chocolates. Each sale provides the Wellness & Prevention Center with a $10 donation, helping teens to be teens and families to be strong.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at

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