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…Two Turtle Doves, And a Tradition with a Good Friend

By Sara G. Stephens

The truest of friendships enjoy a certain chemistry, just as romantic relationships do. But a friendship cannot survive on chemistry alone. It needs nurturing to thrive. By creating and honoring traditions with friends, you can nourish these important relationships easily and meaningfully, creating lifetime memories in the process.

It’s never too late to launch a friend tradition, but the earlier you begin, the sooner your relationship will benefit from its powers of enrichment. Holiday seasons, with their joyous undertones and relaxed calendars, present the perfect opportunity to develop strong friend traditions that will sustain themselves for years to come.

“We need friends and family at the beginning of life, the end of life and all the crises in between,” says Ruth Nemzoff, Ed.D., resident scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center and author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children and Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family. Nemzoff believes that friend traditions make particularly good sense around the holidays, for several reasons.

“Because families often live far apart, we need friends who live nearby with whom we feel a sense of kinship,” Nemzoff explains.

Secondly, holidays help people set aside time to be together, making these seasons particularly well-suited for anchoring traditions. Whether family members are distant geographically or emotionally, their traditions with friends can help fill any voids and loneliness of the holidays, and also lead to those friendships’ being welcome lifelines in the sometimes rocky waters we navigate throughout our lives.

“Good memories are a firm foundation on which to build a support system,” Nemzoff says.

Helping Kids Start Their Own Traditions

Because children stand to benefit as much as adults from these support systems, Nemzoff urges parents to encourage their children to begin their own friend traditions at an early age by inviting not only adults but also children to holiday gatherings. “The tradition itself doesn’t matter; the regularity does,” she asserts. “They can share a holiday meal, go trick-or-treating together or decorate the tree at Christmas.”

Christina Steinorth-Powell is a Dallas-based licensed psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships. She, too, believes in the value of friend traditions and in starting them early. She says the best way parents can help their kids start traditions with friends is by role modeling traditions at home and, as the kids get older, talking about the importance of traditions. “Kids watch every single thing their parents do and learn while they are doing it,” Steinorth-Powell says. “Talk to your children about how traditions can be fun, how they can give you a chance to touch base and see friends that you haven’t seen in months and also about the wonderful memories they leave you with for years to come.”

She suggests that a simple way parents can teach kids to start traditions is to have them start sending good, old-fashioned Christmas cards by snail mail. “Not only will it teach them the lost art of letter writing, but it’s also a simple exercise that they can do at a very young age, and each year you can build on it. They can expand their Christmas card list, and they can even start making their own cards, which gives them the added benefit of working with you on a holiday project—thus creating another family tradition.”

Meg Gerritson, co-founder of Mom Meet Mom (mommeetmom.com), encourages parents to lead by example with their own friend traditions and to involve the kids in those traditions at an early age. “When your kids see the joy that traditions bring to you and your friends, they will remember it,” she says.

As soon as the child demonstrates a grasp of the meaning of tradition, parents can encourage him or her to practice the idea with friends, Gerritson adds. The tradition can be anything that is low/no cost and takes place at a reasonable frequency—annually or monthly versus daily. “With school, family events and other weekend and evening activities, it can become particularly challenging to keep traditions going if they require too much time,” she advises.

Gerritson recommends that parents talk to their kids about what is important to them and see if there is a way to turn a passion of theirs into a tradition. In her opinion, traditions that revolve around giving back to the community offer the greatest return. “But remember, it really should come from the child,” she cautions. “This is their tradition, not yours. Know when to step back.”

Tips for Good Traditions

According to friendship coach Jan Yager, PhD, “The most important part of a friend tradition is that everyone has to agree to it and it has to be comfortable and natural, not forced.” Yager is a sociologist and author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes our Lives; When Friendship Hurts; and Friendship Thoughts, Famous Quotes, and a Journal. “Since friendship is voluntary, and everyone has so many stresses and demands in their lives these days, friendship, including a friendship tradition, has to be a voluntary, positive, and mutually agreed-to event or tradition,” Yager says. “If the tradition isn’t working for either friend or the friends at any point, better to let the tradition fade away and not have a confrontation over it that could damage or end the friendship or friendships.

Nemzoff offers one final point when it comes to holiday friend traditions: “The people with whom you celebrate holidays need not be from your same ethnic or religious group,” she says. “Not one of us can make world peace, but we can create some understanding by reaching out to others and sharing traditions.”

IDEAS FOR FRIEND TRADITIONS

David Bakke, a contributing writer to Money Crashers (moneycrashers.com), suggests practical traditions for kids to start with their friends. “For example, a night out on the town probably isn’t going to work,” Bakke says, “but you could see if your child wants to invite his or her friends over one weekend night for an evening of making homemade Christmas tree decorations.” Bakke also suggests friends get together to bake Christmas cookies and other treats, or for a night of singing Christmas carols in the neighborhood or watching a few classic holiday movies or cartoons.

Here are some ideas for traditions your kids—or you—can start with a friend or group of friends. Thanks to the readers, experts and other sources who shared them!

Traditions for Kids

We adapted the following kid-friendly friend traditions from an inspiring book, The Book of New Family Traditions, by Meg Cox (It’s an amazing book, chock full of ideas for family traditions, and you can buy the Kindle version on Amazon). We were so inspired by Meg’s ideas for strengthening family bonds with traditions that we asked her permission to modify her ideas to create friend traditions.

Secret Handshake. Secret handshakes add mystery and identity to any group. Make one up for your group of closest friends. It can be one of those crazy, silly, long gestures, or one that’s simple but meaningful.

Friend Call-and-Response Motto. This is a great way to deepen bonds and reinforce a common interest or value among friends. One friend calls out, “Who likes to think and are pretty in pink?” to which the group of friends cheers back, “We do!” To add to the fun, friends can come up with a group name and call it back in response: “The Pink Brainies!”

Full Moon Walks. It may not be a holiday, but every 29 days or so, we get a full moon, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Sharing the beauty and mystery of a full moon with a full moon walk with friends is a tradition that can last a lifetime. Parents can help their kids track the moon’s phases. Whenever a full moon rises, friends can meet to take a walk outside at night as a group to have a look at it. If friends are separated by a move or by time, they can still share their walks by talking on the phone, taking pictures of their moonlit walk and then sending them to each other, as a way of staying connected through their experiences.

Box of Goals. As they grow older, kids can be influenced as much or more by friends as by the adults in their lives, so what better way to reinforce goal-setting skills than with a friend tradition? Friends start by finding a nice, sturdy box like a cigar box or even a decorated shoe box. On the first day of the month, each friend writes on a piece of paper one goal he/she wants to accomplish that month and drops it in the box. When next month rolls around, friends meet to take out the pieces of paper and review the goals to see how everyone did. Then they write new goals for the next month. This can be done at a monthly sleepover and can continue through the years as kids get older.

Friends in Service Day. Designate one Saturday or Sunday to serving others. It could mean spending a morning at the homeless shelter, cleaning the garden of an elderly neighbor or sorting clothes at Goodwill. The reward of serving is heightened by sharing the experience with a friend.

Welcome Wagon. Friends who are neighbors can start a tradition of welcoming new neighbors with a gift basket of cookies and a “welcome home” card. This could also be a great way to make new friends, who can also join in the tradition.

Meteor Watching Party. Once a year or so, have a meteor watching sleepover. Kids hit the sack early so they can get up in the pre-dawn hours, dress warmly, drive out to a spot where there’s less light pollution, lie down on a blanket and pour cups of cider or cocoa from a thermos as they watch for meteors and point out different constellations. Like the moonlit walks, these parties can continue to take place over long distances as kids grow older by sharing the experience via phone or text.

Welcome to Fall Dinner. Usher in the first day of the indisputably best season of the year by having a harvest-y dinner: turkey, stuffing, apple crisp and the like.

Baseball Opening Day. While football has overtaken baseball as America’s favorite sport, there’s still something about celebrating America’s pastime by attending a game on opening day that resonates with America. It’s a chance to connect with friends over a sport that’s connected generations of American friends.

Annual Backyard Camping Trip. This can start in the backyard with tents and flashlights and develop with time. As adults, friends can continue their tradition by finding a campsite everyone loves and returning to it again and again as they build special memories around that place.

Midnight phone call.  The “honoree” gets a midnight phone call and is wished or sung “Happy Birthday.” Simple, but, oh, so special.

Pumpkinfest. Make the classic tradition of pumpkin carving extra special by finding a nice pumpkin patch that you return to each year, taking a hayride while there and making a whole pumpkin-themed meal to precede the carving (pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie…).

Putting Regrets to the Fire. Have each friend write down and then share one regret from the past year. Then everyone throws the regrets into the fireplace to symbolize a fresh start.

And here are a few favorites we found while browsing the Internet:

Postcards Among Friends. Who doesn’t like the surprise of receiving an actual paper handwritten postcard in the mail? Friends can create a tradition of sending each other random postcards several times a year: from a vacation spot or just something you pick up from the drugstore. It’s a quick and easy way to brighten someone’s day and let a friend know you were thinking of her.

Painting Birdhouses for Spring. Each friend paints a birdhouse on the first day of spring, then gives it away. This is a nice way to honor the seasons, nurture creativity and practice generosity.

The May Basket. Get together on the first day of May and make baskets (from paper, strawberry baskets, milk containers, empty soup cans, you name it). Decorate the baskets and fill them with artificial flower blooms and candy. Now comes the fun part. Leave the basket on the doorstep of a neighbor, ring the doorbell, then run away. Watch as the tradition takes hold in your neighborhood—you might even receive a May basket on your own doorstep!

Tea Party. The beauty of this tradition is that it can start at the youngest age, with the traditional little-girl tea party with plastic tea sets, cookies and punch, and then graduate to adulthood, with fine china, silver and petit fours—or even meeting at a posh teahouse in the cities. Gloves and hats are required, of course.

Back to School with Ice Cream. The day before school starts, meet your friends at your favorite local ice-cream parlor and dig into some sundaes while recalling the highlights of the summer and anticipating the excitement of beginning a new school year. It’s a sweet way to signify that summer is over.

Run a race for charity. Get fit and give back. Enough said.

Traditions for Grown-Ups

“I have a small group of girlfriends, and once during each fall season we gather at the cottage of a friend’s house to celebrate it. After our last bonfire, we move the wood from the firepit to the porch for easier access during the winter. But the tradition I love is the Sunday morning drive around the lake and meander down country roads in our PJ’s with steaming coffee in hand. We ooh and ahh at the beautiful falling leaves and always see something new as the houses and barns emerge from the lush green of summer. “This tradition is years in the making and important to uphold, not only to strengthen our friendship ties but also to deepen the retelling of our collective history.”
–Greer Haseman

“I decided to host my very first Thanksgiving Pot Luck. This was the best way to go hands- down! It’s budget-friendly and fun.”
— Toi Stori, T.O.I House by Toi Stori (www.thetoihouse.com), *T*ake *O*n *I*nnovation

“The best friendship traditions I’ve seen, both personally and professionally, are celebrating each other’s birthday annually, whether in person, over lunch or dinner, or by exchanging cards or gifts. Also, having a reunion for ‘just girls,’ whether that’s once a year or once every couple of years, with friends from college or any kind of friendship network. Going away together for a weekend or a week, ‘just the girls,’ without the spouses or kids.

“In my own case, my best friend Joyce and I have exchanged presents and cards for our birthdays since we met as seniors in college. We’re both Boomers in our sixties now! But our friendship has survived and thrived through phone calls, getting together in person—when our kids were younger, we’d meet over the summer, in between our homes, spending the day together at Sesame Place—and, in the last year or two, we’ve added text messaging as a way to keep in communication regularly.”
–Jan Yager, Ph.D., friendship coach, sociologist, and author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes our Lives; When Friendship Hurts; and Friendship Thoughts, Famous Quotes, and a Journal.

“We think that starting a tradition of giving is a great one. The website Elfster allows people to start secret Santa-style gift exchanges. The site allows people to ask and answer questions anonymously, create wish lists adding things from anywhere, and “follow” each other’s activity on the site so everyone stays connected. The site also allows you to set up your spending limit and communicate with each other. After the exchange is over, we remind everyone to post a picture of their gift and send a thank you note. The site is completely free.”
–Shannon Wilk, Elfster Client Services, /www.elfster.com

“Each year, before the craziness of the holidays begins, or in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my sister and I host a Friends-giving dinner for a group of friends. This is a potluck dinner where each guest—each friend—is assigned a dish to bring to the dinner. The dishes range from appetizers, side dishes, desserts or drinks—we take care of the main dish. It’s a great way to connect with friends to celebrate the holidays before we’re completely swamped with holiday shopping and holiday parties with colleagues and family. With help from parents, this would be a great party idea for older kids and teens! With everyone bringing a dish to contribute to dinner, it reduces a lot of stress for the host.”
–Amanda Willis, co-founder, The Sisters’ Soiree, www.TheSistersSoiree.com

“As our circle of friends continues to grow, so do the pile of gifts at annual birthday parties. Many parents are concerned about the message it sends to their children. To solve this problem, my sister and I made a decision to ask all friends (not family) to bring a canned good item instead of a birthday gift to our children’s birthday parties. When it’s not all about gifts, the birthday parties become a time for socializing and celebrating good friends. After the party, we bring our kids to the local soup kitchen and donate the goods. The result? Our kids really appreciate the few gifts they do receive from family members, and while lugging the huge bin of cans across town, they learn a very important life lesson: there is much more happiness in giving than receiving.”
— Meg Gerritson, co-founder Mom Meet Mom, www.mommeetmom.com

“Every year, I go out with my best friend to a holiday tea, and we’ve been doing it now for at least 15 years. Some years we get so busy in our lives that it’s the only time we have to sit down together and touch base face-to-face and just have girl talk. If we didn’t have this holiday tradition, there’s a good chance our friendship would have faded off into the sunset some years ago. Good friendships need face-time for bonding.”
–Christina Steinorth-Powell

“Spend a day together making tacky Christmas sweaters, then after a few weeks, wear them while decorating Christmas cookies and have a tacky sweater party!”
— Heather Gonzalez

“Host a holiday house party at which participants purchase gifts from the World Vision Gift Catalog (www.worldvisiongifts.org). The idea is to gather together and share the true spirit of the holidays by giving to those in need. Gifts are also pretty fun—alpacas and other animals are always a big hit.”
–Natalie Bisaro

Tips for Creating New Traditions

  • While it’s tempting to go crazy with starting lots of traditions, shoot for quality over quantity. If you do a couple from within each category, you’re gold.
  • Choose traditions that most resonate with you. Having said that… try not to immediately write off some as silly or not elaborate enough. This isn’t only about what appeals to you as a jaded adult, but what will appeal to your kids. If you think back to your childhood, some surprisingly silly and simple stuff was a lot of fun and created great memories.
  • Traditions need to be practiced regularly to be effective. It’s easy to throw a tradition out the window when life gets busy and you’ve had a long day. Commit to the tradition and do your best to be as consistent as possible with it.source: www.artofmanliness.com
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