Musings on Traditions

Traditions are paramount during the holiday season.  Delicious family recipes, festive excursions, family game nights, and social gatherings are all traditions many of us look forward to in the month of December.  However, it can often be a struggle to identify our own unique holiday traditions.  While from a bird’s eye view, it is easy to notice traditions happening all over our communities, but it’s harder when we point the finger back toward our own lives.

In a recent university assignment, my niece had to reflect on her family’s traditions, but she could not come up with any concrete examples.  She is not alone in this problem; many of us struggle to find patterns in our behaviours year after year.  We love to describe ourselves using words such as contemporary, modern, and innovative, but these words do not necessarily align with our views on traditions.

Additionally, with the COVID-19 global pandemic, we may have to forego many of our holiday activities that give us so much pleasure during this season.  These problems have led me to consider the significant role traditions play in our daily lives, and just how much they contribute to our overall pleasure during the holidays.

Family Traditions

Family traditions are such a broad category, exemplifying a seemingly unlimited variation of activities, feelings, and emotions.  For myself, holiday family traditions start with food and end with emotions.

We often hear the phrase “bucket fillers”; to me, this term encapsulates the purpose of holiday traditions for me and my family.  We figuratively fill each other’s buckets while sharing baking recipes, favourite meal ideas, and finishing our Christmas shopping.  We also make every effort to be together in some form during the month of December, despite being spread out across Canada.  Some of the unique traditions we have (which may or may not be part of other families’ traditions), are to order Chinese food take-out on Christmas Eve, drive around looking at Christmas lights around the neighborhood and have Santa deliver early presents of Christmas pajamas.

However, contrary to what the term implies, traditions do not always have to mean that we do the same things every year without fail.  Instead, family traditions are as simple as patterns in behaviour and activities during a specific time of year.  When you think of your own holiday traditions, what makes those activities so special in your memories?  Do your family members reminisce about similar things about the holidays?  If so, these are likely your unique family traditions.  Our memories will naturally draw us to events that touched us on an emotional or spiritual level, such as things which “filled our bucket.”

If your family is new or expanding, you may want to create new and happy memories together.  If you want, Country Living has a large list of holiday activities to try with your family.  You never know, these might become your new family traditions!

Religious Traditions

In Canada, the holiday season has historically been tied to Christian beliefs.  As a substitute teacher this year, I have witnessed how diverse the holiday celebrations are in schools while also how so much of it is still so closely tied to Christianity.

This December many schools are preparing Christmas concerts, decorating classrooms for the season and some even walking through the Christian tradition of Advent.  However, the holiday season is becoming more and more of a holiday celebrated by both Christians and non-Christians.

Some schools have chosen to forgo holiday decorations and instead focus on winter fun events.  Public spaces are becoming more sensitive to the multicultural nature of Canadian society, and this fosters inclusion and sensitivity to our diverse communities.  I personally find myself replacing “Merry Christmas” with a more expansive “Happy Holidays.”

There are many different religions that have celebrations during the month of December.  Some of these focus on celebrating the lives of influential people in history, while other festivities are in anticipation of what is to come.  These religious traditions include Hanukkah, a Jewish tradition also known as The Festival of Lights, Bodhi Day, a Buddhist commemoration of Buddha’s enlightenment, Kwanzaa, an African-American harvest festival, and Yule, a celebration for Pagans and Wiccans.

There are so many ways we can foster peace, compassion, and charity for others throughout the month of December, without being insensitive to the spiritual beliefs of others.  Our traditions draw up emotions and personal preferences, therefore, religious traditions can be a contentious subject.  The University of Wisconsin-Madison shares a contemporary viewpoint on religious holidays, and how we can be more culturally sensitive to diverse beliefs during the month of December.

Holiday Closures and Educational Traditions

One of the reasons we all have time for our personal traditions is because in Canada (and many other nations), we celebrate the season with closures to educational institutions.  These closures are a societal tradition that is observed by most citizens in Canada (or at least those connected to education in some way).  Both Christians and non-Christians use this time away from academic environments to regenerate physically and emotionally, gather with family and friends, or to prepare for the new year ahead.

I did some research to see why so many countries implement such a large winter break for students of all ages, especially one so closely tied to Christianity, and the results surprised me.  There are plenty of scholarly articles online which advocate for an educational break during the winter months.  The studies claim a twofold benefit, the first is that the break is convenient for Christians who celebrate Christmas, and the second is it falls at an ideal time for students to have a break from academic learning.  Education Week has a few thought-provoking articles discussing the pros and cons of the current traditional school calendar if you have an interest in learning more about how and why our education system historically supports a break during a religious holiday.  I also highly recommend reading “Reimaging the School Calendar for Anishnaabe Schools,” which provides a modern look into how education in Canada could be restructured to promote Indigenous Peoples’ traditions and worldviews.

Brown, Rachel., (2018) “25 Unique Traditions Around the World.”   National Geographic., Retrieved from
Cooper, James., “Christmas in Canada.”, WhyChristmas?.com Retrieved from
Kennedy, Lesley., (2021) “How 25 Christmas Traditions Got Their Start”,, Retrieved from
Pedersen, James. (2012) “The History of School and Summer Vacation.” Journal of Inquiry & Action in Education 5(1)., Retrieved from from