Many people associate family traditions with the Christmas season. But Gwen Squires, clinical social worker at American Fork Hospital, says the new year is a perfect time to begin planning family traditions.

"Simple, yet creative traditions are what bind families and build memories," Squires said. "These traditions can hold families together amid a world that often pulls families apart."January is a good time to begin planning traditions, because events can be scheduled throughout the new year. In fact, developing family calendars is one of the first traditions that Squires recommends. There are two types of calendars that she suggests.

The "happiness calendar" is a large wall calendar with plenty of room to write in each date. Family members record happy things - outings, thoughts, feelings, surprises and events - throughout the year. At the end of the year, the family has a permanent record of what made that year special, details that would otherwise be forgotten in years to come. In addition, the calendar serves as an excellent record of family history.

"This is especially good for children because it teaches them to look for and focus on the positive things in life," Squires said.

A second type of family calendar is the basic planning calendar with a different twist - pictures. Family members sit together and plans special family dates and events. Pictures are used instead of words to record the details (a cake with a candle for a family birthday; or an ocean, mountains or car for a family vacation). Pictures catch the eye and interest much more than words, and are especially meaningful to younger children.

Specific traditions will vary from family to family. "Traditions do not need to be elaborate or expensive," Squires said. "The important thing is to make family life fun and exciting - not to put yourself on a guilt trip."

Traditions can benefit not only the family as a whole but also individual members as well.

Marriage-building traditions, varying from simple notes left in lunch boxes to elaborate weekend getaways, add new zest and spark to the relationship.

"When you are conscientiously thinking of ways to make your partner feel good, you will find that you are the one who ends up falling in love all over again with your spouse," Squires said. "It is true that you love who you serve."

Children with individual needs also can benefit from traditions. One fun tradition is the "blue fairy" - a family member who helps out another family member when he or she is feeling blue. "When children are misbehaving it is usually because they don't feel good about themselves," Squires said. "The blue fairy helps each child feel good about himself."

Some of the most successful traditions are basics - sitting down together for meals, tucking the children in at night and reading to them.

Others are very untraditional. Some of the best family memories will be made spontaneously, doing fun and creative things on a spur-of-the-moment impulse. Family fun doesn't always have to be practical or planned.

Squires and co-worker Connie VanDorn share two ideas for starting the new year with fun and simple traditions: "show love week" and "pass the heart month."

"Show love week" is a tradition Squires' family enjoys. For one week each February, family members do fun and creative things anonymously to show love for other family members.

VanDorn's family has established a "pass the heart" tradition. During February, a decorated wooden heart is passed along when someone does a secret good deed for another family member. The person receiving the heart and the good deed must then do an anonymous deed and "pass the heart" along to someone else.