Traditions ….useful or beautiful?

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  William Morris made this recommendation at an art and design speech in 1880.

As part of my holiday motto, “This is Good, This is Enough” I rotate different traditions like decorations and recipes from year to year.  I don’t want to feel obligated to do everything every year because it won’t be enjoyable.  I ask two questions to my immediate family:

  1. What is one favorite recipe that you would miss if it was not on the holiday table?
  2. What is one favorite event that you would miss if we did not do it before the end of the year?

These questions have worked for us because I use them with less than five people. Of course, this technique might not be easy if I were to ask my large extended family and kin.  I might get too many different answers to fulfill all the favorites!  One advantage of  “voluntary kin” is that we can create brand new traditions.

Traditions can be a very valuable connector for families. Traditions and customs can provide a sense of roots and closeness.  As families grow and change and age, some practices may not fit.  If traditions come across as mandatory, inflexible or unwarranted, they will not likely provide as many benefits.  There is value in learning more about traditions, evaluating them and deciding if they need refreshed.

What are some other ways to determine and evaluate traditions?  Cornell University Extension offers a chart with 10 statements about the holidays to help you clarify your values and make decisions about where to spend time and energy.

plastic display tree with gumdrops decorating the branchesFrom their suggestions, I can label one of our household traditions as an invitation for family laughs and fun memories.  For me, it was a happy memory to have a plastic gumdrop tree on our table since my grandma had one at her house and my mom had one also.  We added a generation of laugher to that memory the year my young daughter admitted that she thought our “family tree” meant the holiday gumdrop tree.


My holiday wish:  have no traditions in “your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.  Or better yet, celebrate both useful and beautiful traditions!