Rubber Duckies Create Connection?: Valuing Annual Traditions

Sean grew up with a single mom who worked two jobs to make sure he and his brothers always had what they needed. Between his mom’s work schedules and his siblings sporting events it was rare to have everyone home at one time. But every St. Patrick’s Day the whole family would get up early and have a sit-down breakfast of green scrambled eggs, Irish soda bread with marmalade, and strong black tea. “There was always one kid falling asleep, a second spilling the hot tea, and a third trying to eat all the marmalade,” Sean fondly recalled.

Cass, Bruce, and their two girls were a serious family. Their dinner conversations centered around intellectual debates, vacations were cultural explorations of Europe, and “fun” often included lectures down in Denver. I had a hard time relating and wasn’t sure I was the best therapist to help out, until April Fools Day. The kids came in the week after, breathlessly filling me in on the day. Before the sun rose, Cass and the girls snuck out to the garage and completely filled Bruce’s car with rubber duckies! Apparently a family tradition was to pull more and more elaborate pranks on each other, the more outlandish the better.

As a kid, my brother and I used to deliver May baskets to our neighbors. Throughout the year my mom would collect the little green plastic baskets from the grocery store, then we’d sit down with pipe cleaners and yarn and decorate them, deciding which neighbor got which basket. I remember the year we learned that we weren’t supposed to pick our neighbor’s daffodils to put in the baskets, and the year we learned it was important to secure the baskets firmly to the door knobs to combat the Kansas wind. But my fondest memory is when the older couple down the street finally opened their door and said thank you, after five years of leaving baskets at their house.

Rituals and traditions don’t need to be fancy, expensive, elaborate or complicated. But when they consistently happen, they knit a family or group of friends together in powerful ways that provide positive emotional impact for years to come. What are some of your favorite traditions?