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For a long time, Jayne Bloch and her husband had been thinking about starting a family tradition with her two young children: lighting candles every Friday night. They finally started -- the first Friday evening after September 11th.
"Lighting the candles was suddenly more meaningful," says Bloch, a New York City psychoanalyst. "It was a way for us to reflect as a family on all of the things we were grateful for, and to pray for the people who had been personally devastated by the tragic events of Sept. 11th." The family's weekly candle-lighting also "gives the kids a chance to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment," Bloch adds.
During this time when national and world events spiral out of our control and anxiety is on the rise, it's particularly important for home to be a sanctuary, says Dr. Raymond Guarendi, a clinical psychologist and author of Back to the Family: How to Encourage Traditional Values in Complicated Times. Starting new family traditions -- or reinventing old ones -- is a wonderful way to help your family feel safe, move forward, and celebrate all that's good in the world. Plus, you continue to create happy memories during difficult times.
"Family traditions are the glue that keeps families together and a safety net when the world seems like it's falling apart," says Guarendi, a father of ten. "Kids come to count on them because they want and need the continuity and stability in rituals."
As we begin the holiday season, it's the perfect time to focus on the real meanings of the holidays and get back to basics with family traditions, adds Meg Cox, author of The Heart of the Family: Searching America for New Traditions that Fulfill Us. "We all really need a Thanksgiving right now," says Cox, a mother of one in Princeton, N.J. "Whenever you have a loss you have to regroup and celebrate what you have."
Although, some people may not feel like celebrating right now, continuing with holiday traditions can be the beginning of healing. "Rituals help heal the pain of life's greatest tragedies" by providing a sense of comfort, Cox says.
For many families, this year's celebrations will be different than in years past. "There may be a component of mourning and celebrating those who were lost," says Cox, even if you didn't know anyone personally. She suggests symbolic gestures like leaving an empty place at your table and saying a special prayer for those who won't be home for the holidays this year. Cox will have a "Thanksgiving tree" at her table. Each family member will attach cutout paper leaves with their "thanks" written on them to several branches that will serve as the table's centerpiece.
Cam Hedberg-Martin, a mother of three from Greenfield, WI, says this Thanksgiving she will be giving special thanks. "Current events have brought my family closer and made us think more about those we hold dearest. When you see how easily and tragically you can lose them, it awakens something in you." Her holiday celebration will include a "special prayer for the victims and survivors of terrorism" and "thanks for being a citizen of this country."
Another important change: Patriotism and charity will become a new or expanded part of many family celebrations this year, says Angela Smith, co-founder of www.patrioticmom.com. "We won't just be stuffing ourselves with food at family gatherings," she says. People are sure to talk more about what they're thankful for; there will be special candle lightings and discussions of heroes, she says.
Travel -- by plane, train, bus or car -- is usually a major part of the holiday season, but recent events have made some people reluctant to travel. Many Americans are more likely to "nest" -- stick close to home and take up soothing tasks like quilting, cooking and playing games with family, say experts.
It's not so much what you do, "but that you do it together," says Susan Vogt, editor of Just Family Nights: 60 Activities to Keep Your Family Together in a World Falling Apart. She suggests families designate one night a week as "family time." They can have fun taking a bike ride or playing a game, "or they can go one step further and pick a theme and use it to grow together."Focusing on others
The holidays have always been a time of year of charity and helping others, but even more so this year. After September 11th, the Canny-Musal family of Pottstown, PA, opened a post office box where kids and adults can send letters that they will forward to rescue workers and those who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks.
"My sons, who are 13 and 16, were as distraught as we are. This is their way of helping," says Kathie Canny. They will continue to send letters to New York and Washington through the holiday season and beyond. "This is not to raise money," notes Canny, "just hearts."
Dr. Guarendi suggests asking your children to suggest some helpful traditions they want to start. "Children have wonderful ideas and doing something to help, no matter how small, gives them a measure of comfort and helps them feel that they're not powerless in this situation," he says. Plus, "serving others breeds a sense of inner satisfaction that kids can make the world a little better place."
Rather than focusing on what's negative in the world, Lucy Slurzberg focuses on what she and her 9-year-old daughter Eliana can give back. This year they will continue their tradition of making food packages to take to the elderly and wrapping gifts to give to needy children. Eliana has also raised money to send to the children of Afghanistan by holding a flea market and by giving relatives back massages.
"I think it's important for her to recognize that there are other children in the world who have needs, too," says Slurzberg, a New York social worker. "I like to think that Eliana feels safe in knowing that just as there are people who help her, we help others," says Slurzberg.
"It shows my child that it's in her power to create a better life and be a better person," she adds. "These traditions are important in a world where we often feel out of control -- and that's a sense of security in itself." --Bethany Kandel
WE CARE PO Box 911 Pottstown Pa 19464
Send letters of thanks, prayers or your child's drawings to rescue workers and the families who lost relatives on September 11th via the above address.
Patriotic Moms www.patrioticmom.com This new site sprung up after 9/11 and is filled with essays and thoughts from moms across the nation. It also features expert advice on how to talk to your kids about terrorism, information on patriotic sites to visit, and a place to share drawings and photos by children. You'll also find a message board, helpful links and patriotic projects.
Back To the Family by Dr. Ray Guarendi In this book, Dr. Guarendi offers lessons from "100 of America's happiest families." He discusses what makes a happy family and offers advice on creating a strong family life.
Just Family Nights: 60 Activities to Keep Your Family Together in a World Falling Apart by Susan Vogt Your family will always have something to do together with this book. An excellent collection of ideas for family nights that are seasonal, spiritual or related to topics of social justice.
New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today's Family by Susan A. Lieberman Lieberman shows how, when old tradition fail, families can invent or adopt new ones. New Traditions will inspire anyone who feels the urge to celebrate special occasions and everyday life with simple, yet creative customs and rituals.
How to Bury a Goldfish: And 113 Other Family Rituals for Everyday Life by Virginia E. Lang and Louise B. Nayer This book instills meaning in the passages of everyday life. It melds many of the world's oldest traditions with contemporary celebrations, allowing people to honor life's events in tangible ways. It is a recipe book for creating celebration and ceremony around special moments in our lives.
The Heart of a Family by Meg Cox This inspiring book explains why it's important to infuse your family's life with ritual and tradition, and offers suggestions of ways to start your own. It gives examples of hundreds of families who have started their own traditions ranging from a literary Advent calendar for the 25 days leading up to Christmas to a "Good deed paper chain" where family members rip off a piece of the chain and do the deed written on it.