Nothing defines a family more than how it celebrates together. Family traditions promote stability and create deep roots. They bind together the hearts of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, linking generations in a way that little else can. Traditions are a significant constant in an ever-changing world, and they are critical to building the family identity and culture that establish a sense of belonging for every member of the family.

At the same time, family traditions can be a source of incredible strain and frustration. When a couple marries, one of the first major challenges to their unity can be that first Christmas, as they try to meld their individual customs into a new way of celebrating together. Feelings of inlaws get hurt as the new couple is pulled in multiple directions. New people are added to the family mix and instead of pulling the family together, traditions create discord and hard feelings. Some may wonder if it's even worth the trouble.

It may take some work, but the benefits of establishing family traditions are undeniable. The key is to develop customs that fit your family. Though it's hard to let go of long-cherished practices from our families of origin, if it's not working for your family, it's defeating the purpose. Compromise and flexibility are paramount, and a sense of humour doesn't hurt either. As you work to create family traditions that are distinctly yours, there may be some false starts, but getting there can be half the fun!

Need some fresh ideas? FamilyLife staff and speakers from across Canada have shared with us their own cherished Christmas traditions. Feel free to take from this list and modify them as you see fit – make them yours!

The whirlwind: Preparing for Christmas

As a child, I loved the entire month of December. Oblivious to the stress of the adults bustling about around me, I soaked up the spirit of the carols, the lights, the decorations, the cookies, and everything else that heralds the approach of the big day. I thought everyone else felt the same way.

As an adult, I now know that the demands of shopping, cleaning, decorating, cooking, and wrapping can easily crowd out the joy of the season. December 25 often feels less like a climax than a sigh of relief. Does it have to be this way?

Here are some ideas to reduce the stress and create family fun throughout the month of December:

Family Fun

The Christmas season provides an abundance of opportunities for family bonding and togetherness.

What's Cooking?

What would Christmas be without food? Many families have food-related traditions that are eagerly anticipated every year.

Present Time

From buying them to opening them, every family seems to have its own way of handling Christmas presents.

The greatest gift

Frenzied trips to the mall, the mad dash to get everything done on time, and new toys everywhere can make a little manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago seem pretty remote. How do you cut through the clutter to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – the incomparable gift of God's one and only Son?

Ultimately, Christmas finds its true meaning against the backdrop of Easter. It's all about a God who loves us so lavishly, so extravagantly, that he chose to send his own Son to live among us and to die for us. Regardless of all the other trappings of the season, if you can keep this as your focus, your celebrations will be rich indeed.

From our families to yours, God bless you this Christmas.

Tags: Christmas
Photo Credit: Denise Johnson