Every summer when my family vacations together, I bring a large jigsaw puzzle with us. I dump all of the pieces on a big table that we reserve for this activity and we slowly piece it together. We sometimes work on it together, but we also just individually stop by the table for a few minutes or more, often that causes someone else to stop to help find that missing piece. Our first puzzle was one that had all the fifty states with pictures of their state flag, capital, and flower. This year’s puzzle: breakfast cereal boxes.
This tradition, though simple, is one of favorite memories. By tapping into this one thing we do, I can picture my children at different stages. By picturing the different images we worked on, I tap into other memories of the summers that sometimes tend to run together into a blur of beach days and barbecues.
Family traditions connect us to each other and connect our families over times. Sometimes, I’ve found that the word tradition can be offputting for young families—pressure to do yet one more thing in a big way. But traditions can be quite simple:
- Making pancakes together on Sunday morning while listening to your kid’s favorite music
- Visiting the farmer’s market each week and tasting the delicious fruits of the season
- Re-reading a familiar story every year or a special book on your kid’s birthday
- Toasting marshmallows and telling family stories
- Camping at the same place every year (even if the place is your backyard)
- Eating popsicles for dinner during the first heat wave
The other thing about traditions is that they often start out simple as something you do and like, so you do it again. And again and again. Traditions develop and evolve. Maybe one year, your children take over the job of reading that familiar story or the popsicles turn into homemade frozen fruit bars. You’ll know when a change works and when to go back to your old way.
4 Ways to Turn Family Traditions into Fabulous Memories
Because traditions bring family together and get repeated, they offer a wonderful opportunity to create fabulous memories and a strong family narrative. And like anything, you may think, “Oh, I’ll never forget this this.” But when next summer rolls around, your memory may be fuzzy. So take some time to create strong memories, ones you can go back to and share together.
This one is tricky. If you spend too much time behind the camera (or your phone), you’ll fail to be in the moment. The same thing happens if you spend too much time flipping through the pictures you already took.
Try spending a few minutes getting some shots and then tucking the camera away. Choose to wait until the event or your vacation is over to look through the photos you shot.
Think about candid shots—grab your phone and capture your little ones goofing off with ice cream cones instead of posing them for a picture. Let your kids take some pictures (you may need to set limits about how long they have the phone or camera so that they spend some time interacting). They have a different view of the world and what you are doing.
After the fact, look back through your pictures and add some notes about what’s happening.
Keep a Journal
Take 5–15 minutes each day to jot down something about that day, whether it is one day in your family vacation or a special event, or even a regular old day. Instead of just listing what you did and saw, think about reactions and the little moments.
Tell how your kids reacted to the heavy rain on your first day of camping. Was it an adventure or a drag? Tell about the colored rock that stopped your toddler on the trail, how it was much more intriguing than the waterfall destination. Tell about the personality of your server at the world-famous restaurant or about the fried dough you had at the street fair.
Tap into all your five of your senses to really capture the moment, smell and taste and how something made me feel are ones I love to focus on. Zoom in tight; it’s the little details that make a memory and the ones that can be hard to remember later.
If you do an activity regularly, use a journal just for that activity. Maybe you have a family hikes notebook or a journal you keep at your summer home. Maybe you tape pages into your recipe book and jot down additions or changes you tried to your Friday night pizza—and what you talked about at dinner.
Make a Scrapbook
A memory book is a great way to capture your memories of family traditions. Whether you use a photobook service or make an album by hand, get everyone involved. Ask kids to draw pictures or help select photos. Have everyone list their top 10 memories or the funniest thing that happened or “I won’t forget when . . .” moments. You can use some of the ideas in the journaling section to help flesh these out some.
Add captions that will help you remember why Ryan has a sock on his head or why Lydia is dripping wet while everyone else is dry.
Tuck in a ticket from the show you saw or a bit of dried fern from a hike. Add the token from the amusement park you found in your pocket after you left or the menu from the hole-in-the wall restaurant that made your day. These items can help trigger memories, but it is your words and stories that will make the memories bigger, make them stick.
Telling family stories is a great way to solidify memories. Some stories will take on a life of their own and get pulled out again and again. Others will go unremembered until you find an object or return to an activity that reminds you. Use your pictures, journals, or scrapbooks to share memories. Maybe you curl up in front of the fire in winter and remember summer traditions. Or maybe you pull them out and go through them, laughing and swapping stories when you get ready to plan next summer’s vacation. And maybe one of you summer traditions is to linger around the picnic table or the campfire telling the stories of the family traditions and memories that you love.
This summer while we work on that cereal jigsaw puzzle, we may be silent or talk about the day’s plans or memories from last summer or summers long past. Just seeing a collection of jigsaw puzzles will bring me back to moments spent all together or alone with my daughter or one of my sons, talking or just being together. I don’t have many pictures of this activity, it’s the kind of small every day thing we often forget to capture, but I’ve written about it to capture the memories, and we talk about this being an important part of our family traditions.
Family stories are your heritage. Each family has a history that no other family has. If you’re interested in the role of storytelling in your own family legacy, download my free resource 5 Questions to Ask at the Table. By telling your stories and sharing them, you keep your history, tradition and ancestors alive, and build connection within your family and across generations.