The Christmas season has more traditions associated with it than any other time on the calendar. These traditions, though, have dwindled over the years and are dwindling still, in part, I think, because we don't recognize how beneficial traditions can be for families that must face the pressures and disruptions of today's hectic times. Traditions not only provide that common glue that helps bind a family together and identify its individual members as a family, but some traditions also carry great potential for learning, or can be made to do so.
Traditions are, after all, just activities that have a momentum of their own; their force pulls everyone along in spite of anyone's feigned or fervent will to resist. Parents today need that extra force behind them because it is so easy to be swayed by those small voices of reluctance or resistance.When I was choosing and editing the selections for the book "Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children," I was faced with the dilemma of omitting entirely Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol," because it was a very lengthy and difficult work to read aloud, or cutting it back severely and running the risk of losing its original flavor and charm. I chose to cut it back, primarily because I wanted parents to be able to create a family tradition of reading that story aloud on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. If that reading required more than an hour, I believed, this particular bonding and learning tradition would never achieve the momentum that it would need to overcome all the seemingly good reasons for omitting it this year, and then the next.
The traditions that are powered by the Christmas spirit need not be relegated to Christmastime alone. One custom of this season that has year-round advantages for adults and children alike is the simple ritual of dining together as a family. How often, other than on holiday occasions, do you sit down to dinner in your own home, with your own family, without the television or stereo or newspaper there to distract your attention and stifle your conversation? I know there are severe pressures of school activities, multiple careers and the like, but the language benefits to your children are so great, and the benefits to you of being able to use this time to better understand and to soothe the day-to-day concerns of your family are so hard to realize in other ways, that this is certainly a tradition worth all your efforts to create and preserve.
Leo Buscaglia, in a book titled "Papa, My Father," tells about the way his immigrant father used the tradition of the family dinner to promote learning among his children. Each child was required, at the end of the meal, to present one fact that he or she had learned during that day. Sometimes the children would scurry to the encyclopedia or dictionary just before dinner to arm themselves with the required fact for the day, but each piece of knowledge, no matter how trivial, was accepted and discussed and elaborated upon, and the tradition endured.
"In retrospect," Buscaglia writes, "after years of studying how people learn, I realize what a dynamic educational technique Papa was offering us, reinforcing the value of continual learning. Without being aware of it, our family was growing together, sharing experiences, and participating in one another's education. And by looking at us, listening to us, hearing us, respecting our opinions, affirming our value, giving us a sense of dignity, Papa was unquestionably our most influential teacher."