Family rituals and traditions are an important part of life for many families and can have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing. They create our childhood memories and can help give us a sense of belonging, a human need which can be just as important as food, water and housing. With the daily pressures of life, and additional stressors such as uncertainty to deal with, probably never more apparent than the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are relying on our family habits, rituals and traditions more and more to give us a sense of security, comfort and dependability. This is particularly important for children and teenagers, especially in times of stress and uncertainty.
My little family of four is big on rituals and traditions, which have survived the test of time over the last 20 plus years and the various stages of our lives and all of the highs and lows these bring. They have seen us through several interstate and international moves, and little people who became teenagers, who became/are becoming young adults.
It all started with Pizza Friday over 20 years ago. We all know that feeling when the weekend beckons and you need something to mark the end of the school and working week. For us that has been take-away for dinner on Friday, and specifically pizza. We started Pizza Friday when our oldest daughter, now in her early 20s, was a baby. The type of pizza, where it comes from, and where we eat it has varied over the years, but Pizza Friday at home is a given. And we have never tired of it (personally I will never get sick of pizza). These days it may be only my husband and me at home on a Friday night, but pizza is still on the menu.
The Birthday Milk tradition is one my husband started when our daughters were very young. As each of our birthdays approach, the race is on to buy the first bottle of milk which has a use-by date of the big day. There is a small window of opportunity to do this, which starts about 10-14 days before the date and lasts only a few days. A show-and-tell of the purchased milk is a celebration in itself, photos and all. Then at least some of this milk has to be saved for the actual day to be consumed by everyone, because quite frankly, is it really a birthday if there’s no birthday milk? And while our eldest daughter has now left home, she still plays along with this very important tradition if she can’t be here to celebrate family birthdays in person, helping her feel connected and giving her a sense of home when she can’t be with us.
Christmas is a time for tradition and ritual for many families. For us, this starts on December 5, when we put up the Christmas tree. December 5 because that’s the day after we have finished the
December 4 birthday milk from celebrating one of our daughter’s birthdays. Every year, one person is totally responsible for the theme of the tree and decorating it, and we all take turns. You get a $20 budget to buy what you need for the tree that year, and you can use any of the decorations we already have. Some of my favourite themes from past years include “Nightmare before Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Rainbow Tree” (celebrating the legal gay marriage bill passing in 2018), “Twilight” (our daughter was obviously in the vampire movie/book obsession phase in one of her allocated years) and “Environmentally Friendly Non-plastic”. As the only male in our family, my husband has endured many pretty and girly themes too, but when his turn comes around every four years he gets to make up for that. It certainly brings out the creativity in all of us and allows us each to express ourselves and promote what is important to us at that time.
Which brings me to the Triple J Hottest 100 Delaney Showdown Party in January every year. My family love music and between us all have quite an eclectic taste which results in plenty of discussion and opinion about what’s hot and what’s not in music. We are all quite competitive so we really look forward to putting in our individual 10 votes for the Triple J Hottest 100 competition each year, which culminates in the countdown day, a party from when it starts at midday until about 9pm when the countdown finishes. I know it’s a party because we always have M and M’s on Triple J Hottest 100 day (tradition within a tradition!). With our lists in hand, and the tally sheet taking centre stage, we all get points for songs from our selection that make it in, with extra points for getting in the Top 10, and Top 3. It’s always a tight race, and one I have never won! The winner gets a crown and bragging rights. And while this year our eldest daughter couldn’t travel back to Orange for the event, she was still very much part of it thanks to Facetime and her own packet of M and Ms.
We get even more competitive when the super-hard-Easter-egg-hunt comes around each year. I’m not talking about the cute backyard Easter egg hunt we enjoyed when our daughters were younger when the actual Easter Bunny hid them. These days my husband hides them in one-room-only in the house in the least obvious spots as possible and then watches me and the girls jostle and tackle our way around in scenes like the we see on the news for the Boxing Day sales. I don’t think our children will ever grow out of this; it’s a highlight of our Easter celebrations for them, along with the fact that they know they will receive a Humpty Dumpty chocolate egg, a tradition which has been carried on from my own experiences as a child when I always received a Humpty Dumpty egg.
My family has enjoyed these traditions and rituals over the years without realising how important they are and what legacy they are potentially creating, hopefully for our children’s children and their children too. This has become more apparent as our children have gotten older, with electronic devices becoming seemingly more interesting than their parents, and them becoming more independent and their own people – our traditions bring us all back into the fold when we might be starting to feel disconnected. Our quirky traditions have seen us through challenging times, such as when our oldest daughter left the nest which was quite an adjustment; even without her living under our roof every day we can still share many special moments through our family traditions and create more memories that will last a lifetime. Our rituals were really important when we lived abroad for four years, away from our extended families and friends, providing the comfort we craved. And now, as we navigate the pandemic and all of that has brought with it, including lockdowns and restrictions, our rituals and traditions are the anchor of strength reminding us that we still have each other and can get through it together. I would also like to think that our traditions and rituals have helped us impart positive values to our children, and in some way shaped their own identifies and beliefs.
Vanessa Delaney is a member of Central West Mums and has two daughters, aged 22 and 17. Vanessa has a strong interest in mental health and wellbeing and is the Senior Development Officer at the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, one of Central West Mum’s mental health partner organisations. Please visit their website for information and resources about mental health and wellbeing for rural communities.