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Creating Sense of Family Tradition : Customs: Finding a special activity that everyone enjoys can add meaning to the holidays--and provide lasting memories.

November 24, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to The Times.

It's easy to let the too-hectic holidays turn into one big blur and to forget the simple pleasures the whole family could treasure. But the holidays should be a means of drawing attention to what counts, said Roderic Gorney, a UCLA professor of psychiatry.

"The holidays ought to be re-crafted by a family to ensure the essence doesn't get lost in the trappings," Gorney said. Families that discover their own holiday traditions are developing a sense of belonging to something special--a personal, family identity, he said. That means rethinking the holiday to come up with activities that will be meaningful and can fit everyone's interests.

One family Gorney knows goes to a redwood grove every Thanksgiving, with a picnic dinner in hand, to spend some special time outdoors together. "They've been doing it for years and their teen-agers are still eager to make sacrifices to keep participating in that trip," he said.

Even something as simple as picking out the Christmas tree can serve as a central tradition for a family. By repeating the routine year after year, children develop a sense of continuity, which helps make them feel part of the larger world community, Gorney said.

From families that have tried them, here are 10 ideas--some old, some new--for creating fun and meaningful traditions:

1. Buy a special new holiday book every year.

Go for the books with great, impressive art and mix the classics with the new. Keep the tomes on the coffee table and read aloud from the growing collection--by the fire or with the lights low--a little every night of the season

2. Do something as a family for a good cause.

The activity can vary every year, depending on the children's ages and everyone's interests. Sign up to help cook and serve dinner at a homeless shelter, buy toys for children who really need them or help clear a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.

3. Start an ongoing family holiday journal.

Buy a nice blank book and have every member of the family write a personal message or thought every year. As time goes by, past messages will not only document the children's growth, but will be lasting, touching reminders of holidays past.

4. Get tickets for a holiday production.

Whether it is "The Nutcracker," "A Christmas Carol" or something completely new, go see something colorful and fun--together.

5. Organize a neighborhood potluck dessert or dinner and caroling.

This does not have to be complicated and can involve nothing more than photocopied music and a big jug of hot chocolate.

6. Take a day off from the holiday craziness and go somewhere.

Find a fun hike in the hills or bring a picnic and sweat shirts for a winter solstice beach day. Whatever the escape, it is likely to serve as a recharge for the harried--young or old.

7. Go light-seeing.

Put the kids in their pajamas, add a few warm blankets and drive through the most aggressively decorated neighborhoods to see holiday light displays.

8. Make a day of decorating.

Get the tree, find favorite ornaments, assemble the creche, put lights on a giant wooden Star of David--turn up the music and have fun.

9. Bake.

Opt for gingerbread men, special breads, cookie-cutter sugar cookies or old family recipes and turn the project into a family affair, saving at least some treats for gifts the children can deliver to friends and neighbors.

10. Catch a parade.

Whether it's the Hollywood Christmas Parade, the Rose Parade or a small community event, the bands, floats and horses can add a traditional festive note to the holidays, and get everyone--including any out-of-town relatives or friends--out of the house.

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